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What Is Sublimation Printing?


Sublimation printing is arguably one of the best and most effective printing methods available today. Not only is it a cost-effective method of transferring designs to a range of materials from ceramics to various polyester-based fabrics, but it also produces vibrant, high-quality graphics that are long lasting.

Young Woman Sublimated T-Shirt Mockup
Just one of the many sublimated T-shirt mockups available at Placeit

Today we'll give you a better understanding of sublimation printing by explaining:

  • what sublimation printing is
  • how it differs from other printing techniques
  • the equipment you need for sublimation printing 
  • what products can be sublimation printed
  • how to design for sublimation printing
  • how you can use mockups to showcase your sublimation transfer designs

What Is Sublimation Printing?

What is Sublimation Printing
Mug Mockups available at Placeit to show off your sublimation transfer designs. 

Sublimation printing is a printing method that transfers a design into a material using ink and heat. The process involves:

  1. Creating a design on a computer.
  2. Printing it with special ink onto special paper.
  3. Sandwiching that special ink-infused paper with a material and applying pressure and heat to them.
  4. This pressure and heat turn the ink infused on the paper into a gas—this is known as the chemical process of sublimation—that embeds the design into the material rather than simply laying it on top the material like other printing processes. 

The result is a vibrant and permanent image that won't fade, crack, peel, or wash away from the material.

What's the Difference Between Sublimation Printing and Other Printing Techniques?

Sublimation Transfer Mockup of Canvas High Top Sneakers
Sublimation Transfer Mockup of Canvas High Top Sneakers from Placeit

The most common forms of transferring designs to various materials today are sublimation printing, heat transfer printing, and screen printing. These three processes are very different.

Sublimation Printing vs. Heat Transfer Printing

While sublimation printing allows inks to be infused into fabrics and various other materials and creates a permanent bond that no amount of washing or use can destroy, heat transfers work differently. The main difference is that heat transfer paper simply adds a coat on top of the fabric when applied with a press. The results will inevitably crack and fade over time.

Sublimation Printing vs. Screen Printing 

Screen printing is an inexpensive but somewhat messy process that typically involves pushing ink through a mesh stencil onto fabric. It's best for simple designs with limited colours as a new stencil needs to be created for each design and for each colour used. This gives sublimation printing a big advantage over screen printing because there's no limit to the colour or design complexity you can use.

Screen printing is usually limited to fabrics, while sublimation printing can be used on both fabrics and three-dimensional objects like mugs. On the other hand, it's much easier to use screen printing on a wide variety of fabrics, while sublimation printing is limited to polyester and poly-coated fabrics.

What Do You Need for Sublimation Printing?

Sublimation Printing Mockup of a Tote Bag with Magazines
Sublimation Printing Mockup of a Tote Bag with Magazines from Placeit

If you want to do your own sublimation printing at home or you are thinking of creating your own printing business, here are the most essential things that you'll need:

  1. Sublimation Ink Printer that takes sublimation ink cartridges. This can either be designed specifically for sublimation printing or can be a new or used inkjet printer that has been fitted with sublimation ink cartridges and repurposed for sublimation printing. There are several brands available for both home and factory use.
  2. Computer and Raster Image Processor (RIP) Software are needed to create and process the images that you will send to the sublimation ink printer. Some printers include compatible RIP software, but it can also be purchased separately. 
  3. Sublimation (Transfer) Paper is a special printing paper that you will use in your sublimation ink printer to print your designs on. This sublimation paper is specially designed to absorb and hold sublimation ink. 
  4. Heat Press to transfer the design from the sublimation paper onto the target material. These come in a wider variety of sizes and models. The one you choose will depend on the kinds of materials you want to print on. For example, if you want to print your design onto a ceramic mug, you'll need to purchase a mug clamp and press, but if you're interested specifically in sublimation T-shirt printing at home, a small flatbed heat press should be enough. Or if you want to get into more commercial-scale production of a variety of fabrics, then a large calendar heat press will be a better choice for you.
  5. Mockup Generator provides you with a number of photorealistic mockups that will help you to see how your designs will look in real life before you commit them to print. 

What Materials Can You Use for Sublimation Printing?

Sublimation Transfer Mockup of Kid with Mug from Placeit
Sublimation Transfer Mockup of Kid with Mug from Placeit

Before you venture into sublimation printing, it's important to know what materials work best with this process. Sublimation printing works best on polyester fabrics because the material is constructed in such a way that, when heated, its pores open up and bind with the gas released by sublimation transfer to create a permanent bond.

So if you want to use sublimation printing for T-shirts, the fabric needs to be 100% polyester to yield the most vibrant colours. Polyester blends will also work but will create a less vibrant, more weathered, vintage look. In short, the higher the percentage of polyester in any fabric you use for sublimation printing, the better.

Sublimation printing also works well on ceramics, but if you want to print on plastics, metals, aluminium, or any other material, you need to treat them with a polyester coat first to prepare them to bond with the sublimation inks.

Designing for Sublimation Printing

Blank Sublimation Shirts and Coffee Mug Mockup
Blank Sublimation Shirt and Coffee Mug Mockup from Placeit

To use sublimation printing effectively, you should know the method's limitations and pick your design carefully.

  • If you need one logo at the top of a T-shirt, then sublimation printing isn't the way to go. A direct to garment (DTG) printing method would work better. 
  • Sublimation printing, on the other hand, offers designers a lot of freedom to go wild and create imaginative and expressive designs. One of its benefits when compared to other printing methods is the ability to print seam to seam. Why not exploit this by making the entire product your canvas? For example, you could create your design for a whole garment as opposed to just a small area of it and use the seams, top, and bottom as natural boundaries for your design. 
  • Photographs work well with sublimation printing. Why not try filling the whole surface of your garment with a photograph, instead of just placing it on the front of the garment in traditional fashion?
  • It's important to remember that there is no white ink in sublimation printing, so you can only sublimate on materials with white or light backgrounds. 
  • An indispensable tool when creating sublimation designs is a mockup generator like the one at Placeit. What makes the mockup generator one of the best tools for designers is that you get to see how your design will look in photorealistic scenarios before you commit to the expense of printing them. Using the example of the T-shirt mockup generator, I'll show you how it works.

How to Create a Sublimation T-Shirt Mockup

1. Go to Placeit.net > Mockups > Sublimated

Go to Placeitnet  Mockups  Sublimated

You'll find a wide selection of clothing templates and other mockups that you can add your sublimation designs to, but for our purposes today, we're looking for T-shirt mockups, so go to the column on the left and select T-shirts.

2. Peruse the Blank Sublimation Shirts > Choose a Mockup

Blank Sublimation Shirts

3. Go to the Left Menu > Upload Design > Choose Your Design

Sublimation Transfer Designs

4. Go to the Right Menu > Background > Choose a Background Colour

Sublimation T-shirt

5. Download Your Customised Sublimation T-Shirt

Download your Sublimation T-Shirt

Now that you know how easy it is to create sublimation mockups, let's look at the range of sublimation T-shirt mockup templates available at Placeit.

10+ Best Sublimation T-Shirt (And Other) Mockups 

Long Sleeve Shirt Mockup of a Woman With a Long Skirt

Long Sleeve Shirt Mockup of a Woman with a Long Skirt

Need a cool, fashionable, long-sleeve shirt mockup for your sublimation transfer design? Then this is the template for you. It features a stylish young woman shot against a street scene looking directly at the camera. A great template for showing off your designs.

Mockup of Three Folded Sublimated T-Shirt Mockup Templates

Mockup of Three Folded Sublimated T-Shirts Lying on a Surface

Show three sublimation examples in one image with this simple but very useful mockup template. The outer two are on top, so your full design will be shown there, but the middle one also has plenty of space for the viewer to see what they'll be getting.

T-Shirt Mockup Template of a Young Woman Drinking From a Coffee Mug While Working

Sublimation T-Shirt Mockup Template of a Young Woman Drinking from a Coffee Mug While Working

Need a fabulous sublimation mug and T-shirt printing mockup to display your amazing designs? You can add the same design to see how they would work at different scales or try complementary designs created specifically for each item.

Sublimated Bandana Mockup Featuring a Dog

Sublimated Bandana Mockup Featuring a Dog

How cute is this sublimated bandana mockup of a sweet dog wearing a bandana? This is just one of the many mockups you will find at Placeit that you can use to showcase your designs in an interesting way.

Long Sleeve T-Shirt Mockup of Woman in Shorts

Mockup of a Woman with a Long-Sleeve T-Shirt and Shorts

Here's a great long-sleeve T-shirt mockup template for your sublimation transfer design. Just upload your design from your computer using the T-shirt mockup generator to see how your design will translate in a real-life context, and then add your mockup to your website or send it to a client.

Clothing Template: Face Mask Mockup Featuring a Woman in a Studio

Clothing Templates Face Mask Mockup Featuring a Woman in a Studio

Face masks have now become a part of our daily lives—for the time being, anyway—and if you're creating designs to put your own collection of sublimation facemasks out there, this is a mockup template you'll need.

Clothing Templates: Sublimated Baseball Jersey Mockup

Clothing Templates Sublimated Baseball Jersey Mockup

This kids' sublimated baseball jersey mockup is perfect for showcasing your team design ideas. Use the mockup to display a few different design options so your clients get a clear idea of how the design looks in a real-life scenario, and let them choose their favourite.

Sublimation Tote Bag Mockup

Sublimation Tote Bag Mockup

The reusable tote is another item that's become part of our daily lives, so of course designers are stepping up to create beautiful designs that can be transferred to them using sublimation printing. That's why we've included some sublimation examples of totes that you can use in your Etsy shop, social media, or elsewhere online to showcase your designs.

Sublimation T-Shirt Mockup Template With Shorts

Sublimation T-Shirt Mockup Template with Shorts

Sportswear is the perfect vehicle for sublimation transfers because it's often full polyester or poly-blends. Here's a terrific template for your sublimation shirts and shorts designs. There are plenty more on the site, so if this one doesn't work for you, head over there and take a look at the other items available.

Mockup of Two Mugs Placed in Front of a Dad and His Son

Mockup of Two Mugs Placed in Front of a Dad and His Son

This sweet father and son image creates a great background for your sublimation transfer design for mugs. Just use the mockup generator to add your design to the mockups, and you'll have a wonderful image ready to download in seconds.

Clothing Templates: Woman Wearing a Long Sleeve Polo Shirt Mockup

Woman Wearing a Long Sleeve Polo Shirt Mockup

Looking for a long-sleeve polo-shirt mockup for your sublimation transfer designs? Here's a terrific mockup for you. It features a young woman standing in front of a cafe on a city street, peering over her sunglasses. Use the "upload image" feature to add your design.

Sublimation Transfer Mockup of a Woman Holding a Coffee Mug

Sublimation Transfer Mockup of a Woman Holding an 11 oz Coffee Mug

How about this sublimation transfer mockup of a woman's hands holding a coffee mug? If you've been looking for a template where your design occupies front and centre space, this is the template for you.

Download a Mockup Template to Promote Your Sublimation Transfer Designs Today

Sublimation printing represents a wonderful advance in both at-home and commercial printing that designers need to take advantage of. So jump on board the trend and start creating your own fabulous designs.

And when you need to test your sublimation transfer designs to see how they'd look in real-life scenarios, or if you need to showcase your designs for a client, then visit Placeit and take a look through the terrific collection of mockups to be found there.

I hope our selection has made you excited about all the possible ways you can display your designs. Why not add your design to your favourite mockup and share it with us here? We’d love to see which you choose.

And if you're looking for the best shirts for sublimation printing or are interested in other cool mockups for sweatshirts, sports jerseys, tote bags, and more, check out this handy roundup of the best mockups available at Placeit in different categories:

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