How to Do Sublimation on Custom Shirts (Heat Press Time & Temperature)

When I was a beginner in this field, I tested different methods like screen printing, DTG printing, etc.. to transfer the designs on the t-shirts. While these methods are suitable and provide me with vivid colors on t-shirts, unfortunately, the designs created with these methods are not durable; moreover, working with these methods requires expert knowledge. If you are a beginner, this question may come to your mind on how to do sublimation on custom shirts?

A friend of mine introduced me to a new method to transfer the designs to the t-shirts with sublimation papers. But he told me we could use only this method on light-colored polyester t-shirts or the substrate containing at least 50% polyester quantity. After researching this method, I found some tricks to sublimation on 100% cotton t-shirts. I will also share some hacks to transfer the designs on dark-colored shirts quickly. Before going deep into the topic, we first need to learn how sublimation works.

What is Sublimation? Best Ways to do Sublimation on Shirts:

Sublimation is converting a substance from a solid state to a gaseous directly without going through a liquid state. There are four states of matter solid, liquid, gas and plasma. Generally, the rule of nature is that the solid matter is first transferred into the liquid and then gas, but during sublimation, we bypass nature’s rule and turn the liquid into the gas. Sublimation occurs when the particles on the surface of the solid have enough energy to break away from the solid and escape a gas.

What is Sublimation Printing?

Sublimation printing is a two-step process in which we first create digital designs using sublimation paper, printer & ink. After that, we transfer these designs to the fabric using a heat press machine. Once we heat the sublimation ink, it transforms it from solid to gas and bonds with the fabric at the molecular level. Sublimation printing has gained the most popularity over the past few years because it is straightforward to transfer the designs on different types of material, including fabric, wood, ceramics and aluminum sheets, using this method. And the sublimated designs provide vivid colors and extra durability compared to screen printing and DTG printing.

A few years ago, it was not possible to transfer the designs to cotton garments and on dark-colored substrates because the cotton fabric can’t bond with the sublimation ink at the molecular level. But nowadays, there are so many ways to sublimate cotton shirts. The upside of this method is that you can transfer any printable design to the fabric. The fadness of the designs depends on the sublimation ink. If you use high-quality fade-resistant ink, then it will give you more durability.

What do you Need for Sublimation on Custom Shirts?

Things required to do sublimation on custom shirts

As I have already discussed, sublimation printing is straightforward, and you can do it even if you don’t have extensive knowledge about it. But there is some equipment required to do sublimation at home. I am listing all the things below.

Sublimation Printer:

The sublimation printer is the most important thing to do sublimation. If you have an ordinary inkjet printer, you can easily convert it to a sublimation printer by reading this article. And if you want to purchase a new one, I have prepared a list of the best sublimation printers in the market; some printers have built-in sublimation technology, and others can be easily converted to sublimation.

Sublimation Ink:

Before entering this business, you need to know that we can’t use ordinary ink that comes with most inkjet printers for sublimation purposes. Because ordinary inkjet ink is made with soybean oil and linseed oil, and while doing the sublimation, we can’t change its state from solid to grass. On the other hand, the sublimation ink includes N-butyl acetate, 2-methoxy-1-methyl ethyl acetate, propylene glycol and other petroleum distillate, and all these things can be easily converted to the solid to gas which future make a bond with the fabric at the molecular level. There are tons of sublimation inks available in the market.

With different features, and it is challenging to choose one of them, during my printing career, I have tested hundreds of inks; if you need any guidance, then you can read this article.

Sublimation Paper:

Sublimation paper is also essential to get the best results. You can use ordinary printing paper for the sublimation. Still, it will give you a meager transfer rate because the simple printing paper holds the ink permanently and doesn’t transfer the ink to the fabric when heat is provided. And the sublimation paper is specially designed, and it contains silica-based coating. It doesn’t hold the ink permanently and provides an ultra-high transfer rate once heated under a heat press machine.

Heat Transfer Machine:

 A heat transfer machine helps the ink to diffuse appropriately on the fabric. You can also use the iron if your designs are a little small, but the recommended thing is to use a heat transfer machine.

Lint Roller:

A lint roller is a dust-cleaning device consisting of a barrel and a handle. We use it on the t-shirt before attaching the actual design to it.

How to Do Sublimation on Custom Shirts?

After setting up all the required things now, it is easy to learn how to do sublimation on cotton shirts. I will share a step-by-step process that will help you in this matter.

How to Make Sublimation Transfers Digitally?

The first step is to create the design on the computer you want to print on the sublimation paper. There is so much personal software available for this purpose, like photoshop, coral draw and adobe illustrator. You can also download some free designs from different websites. But if you want modern, creative and print-ready designs, you can hire freelance designers on these websites….Fiverr, Upwork etc.

Things to Keep in Mind While Designing or Purchasing a Design:

Modern Design:

If you plan to sell t-shirts commercially, you need to create a modern and eye-catching design for your customers. More than 90% of people buy t-shirts because of their design, so make sure to choose a creative and modern-looking design before transferring it to the t-shirts.


No one wants to wear a faded-looking t-shirt except some people who want vintage designs. The design quality depends on the resolution of the image. Generally, online images’ resolution is 72 pixels per inch (PPI), but we need a very high-resolution image of around 300 PPI for printing purposes. Ask the designer to make a print-ready high-quality image.

Print with the Correct File Type:

A suitable printing file is essential to get a smooth printing experience for you and the printer. Most of the new printer in the market works very well with .pdf file, but check the printer settings, so you will better know which file type your printer prefers.

Mirror Printing:

Usually, mirror printing is optional in simple projects, but if you want sublimation, make sure to print your designs with mirror printing.

Print your Design on a Sublimation Paper (For Polyester)

  1. Now print your digital design on the sublimation paper by using a sublimation printer&ink. If you are not in a hurry, I suggest using a slow printing speed to get better results. The design that you have printer looks very faded. Don’t worry. It will produce vibrant colors after the heat press process. Before placing the paper on the shirt, trim the unwanted area using scissors or paper cutters.
  2. Pre-heat the t-shirt you want to sublimate to remove humidity and wrinkles.
  3. Put the sublimation paper upside down onto the t-shirt and secure it with thermal or heat-resistant tape.
  4. Use the Teflon sheet on both the up and downsides of the shirt to protect the design, and you can also use butcher paper for this purpose.
  5. Heat the shirt under a heat press machine at 380 for 40-45seconds( temperature and time may vary according to the paper thickness)
  6. Peel the paper gently from the t-shirt and let it cool. Your shirt is ready to wear.

How to Sublimate the 100% Cotton Custom T-shirt?

As you know, we can’t sublimate the cotton shirts directly because the cotton doesn’t bond with the sublimation ink at the molecular level. But there are so many methods to sublimate cotton t-shirts. We can use heat transfer vinyl and acrylic spray on the fabric to create a thin layer of polyester on the surface of the cotton. I suggest you read this article if you want to know everything about it.

How to Sublimate Dark-Colored Custom T-shirts?

This is the most common question I have heard in the past few years. There are many methods to transfer the sublimation designs on dark-colored custom t-shirts. I have researched a lot, and some methods are straightforward and provide the best results. Here I am listing below, and you can read the full article by clicking on the links below:

  1. Sublimation with vinyl
  2. With polycyclic spray
  3. With glitter htv
  4. With sublime mat sheets
  5. Forever subliflex sheets (I am personally using this method to get high quality and vivid colors on dark-colored fabric)

Frequently Asked Questions:

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