The Sublimation Process - What Is Sublimation?

Sublimation fabric and hard surface drinks coaster

Dye Sublimation is the process of converting the dried liquid ink (a solid) that’s printed on the paper into a gas that dyes the fabric fibres or special sublimation coating. This is done using a specific heat and pressure for the substrate being sublimated using a heat press. 

This is the best method for decorating substrates there is but has a few limitations:

Only white & light colour substrates can be sublimated as the semi transparent ink behaves in a similar fashion to a standard office inkjet printer. It doesn’t print white ink and only shows up on white paper. If you print onto yellow paper, everything will have a yellow tinge. If you print on black paper, you won’t see anything as the substrate colour shows through the ink

Only polyester fibres can be sublimated which means ideally garments or fabric that is being sublimated should be 100% polyester. While you can sublimate blend fabrics, the cotton (or other no polyester fibres) won’t take the dye and will either not dye at all or will simply wash out. 

Buy Custom Sublimation Prints Here
Sublimation Requirements
  • Machine - Suitable inkjet printer with special sublimation inks
  • Transfer Media - Sublimation paper designed for sublimation ink
  • Print Size - Mug size strips upto A3+ (329x483mm)
  • Process - Transfer prints applied with correct heat & pressure
  • Substrate Type - Fabric with high polyester count or hard surface products with white sublimation coating. Cast acrylic can also be sublimated but this can be tricky to master
  • Equipment - Heat press to suit the size & shape of the design on the substrate
  • Substrate Colours - White & light colours
  • Ink Colours - Full-Colour CMYK (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow & Key/Black)
  • Cost of Media - Low paper & ink cost
  • Suitable Artwork - Perfect for full colour and deep blacks with rich detail

Sublimation uses a special sublimation ink which is printed onto a sublimation paper designed specifically for the process, which is then transferred to a suitable substrate using heat and pressure. Applying consistent heat (around 180°C) & pressure, the printed side of the transfer is placed on the substrate and heated for a time and temperature defined by the manufacturer of the item to be sublimated. 

The heat process turns the dried liquid ink (a solid) into a gas via the process known as ‘sublimation’ and the gas bonds permanently with the substrate it’s being applied to. In simple terms, the ink permanently dyes the polyester fabric fibres or the special white polymer sublimation coating on hard surface materials (like mugs, photo slates, keyring etc). 

Buy Custom Sublimation Prints Here


Sublimation ink, much the same as ink in a standard home office inkjet printer is translucent, which means they are semi see-through, so printing needs to be done on white paper in order to see the ink and the colours properly. You can print on black using sub ink, but you simply won’t see it. For this reason, sublimation is only suitable for white or light substrates and which is why hard surface sublimation products all have a white coating applied. 

Sub ink doesn’t work on cotton, only polyester fibres so sublimation must be done on garments with a high polyester content as the ink won’t dye cotton fibres. You can sublimate to blend fabrics, for example 50% cotton/50% polyester, but only the polyester content in the garment takes the dye, so as only half of the fibres are dyed, the finished print won’t be as vibrant and will look faded, worn, stone-washed and have kind of a vintage look. 

Similarly, if you have a 100% polyester garment which is yellow, then everything to transfer to that garment will look like it’s had a yellow filter applied, as the yellow colour in the garment will show through the ink somewhat. Imagine printing using your home inkjet printer onto yellow card, it’s the same with sublimation. 

For best results, a white 100% polyester garment will give the brightest, most vibrant, detailed and crisp transfers. 

We print using a professional series inkjet printer using the best eco-friendly inks in the business on FSC certified paper and posted using plastic-free and/or recyclable, recycled or reused materials. We print using professionally created ICC colour profiles to ensure you get perfect colour reproduction so you can be sure to get the best colours possible for your projects. 

If you don't have a sublimation printer and would like to try out the process before committing to a purchase, we can provide sublimation prints for you.

Buy Custom Sublimation Prints Here

We're also here as a backup if your sub printer breaks down and you need to get orders out quick, we nearly always print and post orders out within one working day using first class post. 

Our service is also very useful if you don't want the issues of keeping another printer running and the maintenance headaches of it or if you simply don't have the space for another machine in your workspace, or don't have enough sublimation orders or projects to justify owning your own printer.. we're here for you so get in touch if you have any question or click the link to order your custom sub prints from us today :) 


Sub printed soft feel velvet cushion cover