Who hasn’t thought of giving a friend a custom t-shirt with a commemorative photo or just a funny image? The individual design immediately makes the gift more valuable and the emotions brighter.
When it comes to the process itself, there are two main ways to transfer an image to clothing: screen printing and sublimation. In this article, we will review the process of sublimation and screen printing, so this will help you choose the way to transfer the image. What is the difference between screen printing and sublimation
Let’s at once answer the main questions about screen printing and sublimation that concern people the most, so that later we can move on to a more detailed description.
What is the difference between screen printing and sublimation?
No, these are two different methods of transferring an image to fabric. They differ in application technique, and method of exposure, and each method is suitable for different fabrics. The same design will look different in the stencil’s execution method and the sublimation method.
Screen printing is a more old way and the origin of this method is rooted in the distant past. Screen printing requires a complicated stencil with the image you need and a squeegee. Master squeezes the ink out through a stencil and applied it to the t-shirt with a new layer. Screen print transfers on any kind of fabric and surface.
The screen printing method involves the use of very thick ink, which, when applied to the fabric, creates a 3D effect. Each layer of such thick inks turns out to be very dense, so you can use screen print on almost any fabric. It also might be hard for an inexperienced person to work with complicated stencils.
Screen-printed designs have already gained great popularity in the market, but it’s a long process. So, you can make a typical DTG print using chemical dye bonding.
Sublimation is a modern method of transferring a pattern to a fabric. This method involves a chemical process. Basically, it is the heat transfer method. Sublimation transfers the image by force of heat and pressure.
In simple words, sublimation helps to turn a solid form into a gas, skipping the liquid stage. In this way, the ink cools directly into the fibers of the fabric and connects with it.
So, with the screen print, you put layers of ink on the t-shirt. You must apply each color separately. Screen printers make clear and dense drawings. With the sublimation method, the heat press sublimates ink into the fabric, so the fabric and ink become one.
What lasts longer: sublimation or screen printing?
Sublimation prints allow you to save the drawing much longer. In fact, the pattern exists as long as the fabric exists. The stencil method is not so long-lasting. The image will crack and gradually slide off during washing.
Is sublimation or screen printing cheaper?
When calculating expenses, of course, you need to consider the size of the image, the size of the fabric, and the number of products. But the screen printed shirts are cheaper because the sublimation process involves equipment that is cost-effective.
Which is better: sublimation or screen printing?
If you need to make a lot of custom t-shirts with the same pattern for an event, then screen printing is definitely more suitable for you. This method is cheaper; you don’t need special equipment – just a stencil and paint. But screen printing can be a real headache because it’s harder than it looks.
If you are planning to transfer a photo, or you only need one t-shirt and not a whole batch, then it is worth considering sublimation prints. Complex sublimation prints take less time and effort. Complexity sublimation printing allows you to use more complicated printed art than screen prints.
There is also a great difference in color transferring. For screen printing, mix the shades of colors you need by hand. Specialists can use mechanized machines for mixing paints, but you are supposed to do it in advance at the preparation stage. Sometimes experts can mix colors on the color screen to create cool ombre effects, but it also requires a lot of skill.
With sublimation print, mixing shades seems like a simple task, since the printer does all the work. A special printer mixes inks in the primary colors of CMYK for printing on copy paper and then the heat moves the colors on the item.
To get accurate tones in sublimation printing, you need software that offers an ICC profile. How the human eye sees colors and how the computer recognizes them are two different things. The ICC profile matches the color of the computer screen and allows the printer to reproduce the exact color each time.
The answer to this question depends on your goals and expectations. Let’s take a closer look at the difference between screen print and sublimation so that you can decide for yourself. You can transfer the same design using detailed screen print stencil or sublimation printers.
What you will need
- stenciled screens or frames with mesh
- detailed stencils
- a squeegee or other tool to help you spread the emulsion on the screen fabric
- screen printing inks or lacquers
- an exposure unit or a 500-watt lamp
- an emulsion remover to clean the screen when you’re done
After the initial cost, some items will have to be ordered again. With screen printing, the main supply costs will be extra screen printing inks and transfer tape.
- an ink-jet printer
- sublimation plastisol ink
- sublimation transfer paper
- a transfer sheet
- heat press
- blank shirts
With sublimation, the two main supply costs will be additional sublimation paper and replaceable sublimation ink cartridges.
Also, make sure that the heating area is larger than the design you are pressing. You should do sublimation by hot pressing immediately over the entire surface, otherwise uneven heating can distort the design.
Image transfer process
Screen printing and sublimation printing techniques are suitable for home t-shirt printing and for commercial purposes for manufacturing large quantities of goods. However, the printing process has significant differences.
Take the image you want to transfer and divide it into separate colors. It is better to use a drawing where there are few colors or just take a monochrome design or inscription. If there are several colors, then remember to apply each color separately, through a separate screen.
For each color you plan to use, you will need to prepare a stencil on the grid. A stencil is a negative space around your image.
Then you should apply a layer of thick plastisol paint to the stencil.
Use a special squeegee to push the ink through the sections of the mesh screen without a stencil on the T-shirt.
In the end, use a compressor to allow the ink to solidify.
Screen printing setup takes a lot of time and skill, but you can reuse your screens many times. This makes screen printing a good choice for large batches of shirts. Also, reusing screens makes it cheaper than making sublimation shirts.
This printing method comprises transferring the pattern that you have printed with sublimation ink to a specific substrate using heat.
Find a detailed and high-quality digital design.
High-resolution photos or images will do. In most cases, you need to mirror the image so that it doesn’t end up backward on the T-shirt itself or another product.
Set up a sublimation printer. A sublimation printer works the same way as a conventional laser printer, except that they require special ink.
Insert a sheet of sublimation transfer paper into the printer and print your design on paper.
You can use the translation immediately or save it for later.
Then prepare the surface of the clothes – remove all dust particles and lint, and straighten the folds. Do not forget to use only polyester fabric.
Make sure that the copy paper will not move. Moving transfer paper can ruin the image, so, use heat-resistant tape.
Apply heat and pressure with a thermal press for a certain time. Make sure that heat transfers the pattern correctly.
Read also: What is the best shirt for sublimation?
Details to consider
Screen printing allows you to print in any color; during sublimation, the object must be white or has light colored surfaces, so that the colors of the drawing are bright.
Screen printing is suitable for all types of fabrics. If you use sublimation, then make sure that you use a synthetic t-shirt or other garments.
The screen printing technique is basically suitable for any fabric or hard surfaces like a mug or baseball cap. The sublimation printing technique is only suitable for products with polymer-coated surfaces.
Sublimation requires a CYMK printer model.
You will print the photo using sublimation. Screen printing transfers only simple and bright colors. But screen printing cannot convey complex colors and shades of shadows.
Sublimation printing is much faster and easier to master. Screen printing requires more experience to achieve the desired results.
Both sublimation and screen printing are effective, and give good results, although both screen printing and sublimation have their advantages and disadvantages that you need to consider in advance.
Also read: How to do sublimation with Cricut?
Screen printing works best with designs that contain 2-4 colors, while sublimation can help you transfer more complex pictures. For example, a company logo, or a photo because sublimation ink can be able to convey more complex shades.
For dye sublimation, you will need a digital image that you plan to transfer onto the t-shirts. For screen printing, you can get by with just a stencil and special transfer paper.
Screen-printed t-shirts aren’t very durable. The image will inevitably crack. But you can use screen print on a hard surface as well as fabric. Sublimation printing is more long-lasting, but the colors will lose their brightness along with the wear of the fabric. Sublimation works only with synthetic fabrics.
There is also a slight tactile contrast. Sublimation designs will merge with the fabric while the screen printing will feel like a bulge. So, both screen printing and dye sublimation are not forever. Want to know how to wash sublimation shirts, read the article.
What is better sublimation or screen printing?
The choice between sublimation and screen printing depends on the specific needs and requirements of a project.
Both methods have their own advantages and disadvantages. Sublimation is a printing process that allows for high-quality, full-color images to be transferred onto polyester or polyester-coated substrates, such as t-shirts, mugs, and phone cases.
Screen printing, on the other hand, is a versatile printing process that can be used on a wide range of substrates, including cotton, polyester, and other natural and synthetic fabrics.
What lasts longer sublimation or screen printing?
Both sublimation and screen printing can produce long-lasting prints, but the durability and longevity of the prints depend on a number of factors, including the quality of the materials, the washing and care instructions, and the use of the products.
Is sublimation more expensive than screen printing?
The cost of sublimation and screen printing can vary depending on the specific requirements of a project, such as the quantity of prints, the size of the design, and the type of substrate used. In general, sublimation printing is often more expensive than screen printing, especially for small orders or single prints.
Is it better to screen print or heat transfer?
The choice between screen printing and heat transfer printing depends on the specific needs and requirements of a project.
Screen printing is ideal for producing large quantities of prints on a wide range of substrates, while heat transfer printing is a good option for small orders or one-off designs with high color resolution and minimal setup requirements.
Both methods can produce high-quality prints, and the choice between them ultimately depends on the specific needs and budget of the project.
You may also be interested: Can you use sublimation ink for regular printing?
Hi, I’m artist and sublimation printing expert. Born and raised in Anchorage, Alaska, I had passion for photography and painting from my childhood. I started my career as a sublimation print operator for a local printing company in 2012. The role exposed gave me lots of practical knowledge about printing process, from managing color profiles to ensuring print quality on various materials.