Heat Transfer Paper vs. Sublimation Printing

If you are just entering the wonderful world of t-shirt making and personalized garments, you may be asking which is better – heat transfer or sublimation? Unfortunately, there’s no easy answer, but, hopefully, this blog will help you decide which is best for you.

Heat transfer is the process of printing onto special transfer paper and using a heat press or home iron to transfer it onto a shirt.Heat transfer is a similar process as direct-to-garment or screenprinting, but does not carry the same high cost or messy set up. Much like the old iron-ons you could buy at craft stores or Wal-Mart, these transfers are kind of like to stickers, meaning the image will lie on top of the shirt and has a different texture than the surrounding material. Unlike those old iron-ons, these are professional-quality transfers. The color, feel and durability far surpass the old Star Wars logo (see picture) on your brother’s old shirt. Depending on the type of transfer you choose, you can customize the softness, the vibrancy of color, the gloss and the thickness of the background. Though a heat press isn’t required for heat transfer, it is highly recommended.

Heat transfers have a shorter life span than sublimation, but your image can remain bright and beautiful for years if it is applied and cared for correctly.

Sublimation is a little more complicated and - don’t let this scare you off - scientific.Sublimation ink, when heated, turns into a gas that actually embeds itself into anything with a polyester coating. This creates a cleaner, more professional look. There is no difference in feeling between the image and the shirt. The downfall to sublimation is that it must be used with 100% polyester garments. This may limit you when looking to create t-shirts, but it opens an entirely new world of sublimation blanks – anything from coasters to jewelry, mugs, puzzles and more. Keep in mind that a heat press is required for sublimation.

Sublimation always has intense colors and can last virtually forever, if applied correctly.

Heat transfer tends to have a less expensive start up cost, since it only requires a simple inkjet or laser printer and heat transfer paper. Sublimation requires a dedicated printer, specialty sublimation ink, sublimation paper and sublimation-compatible blanks.

However, don’t let the price tag of sublimation scare you away. You could start out with any number of our sublimation starter packages, which can include printers, sublimation ink, paper and a set of Unisub sublimation blanks, starting at under $400!

Bottom Line: If you want to center your business on t-shirts or garments, I would suggest sticking with heat transfer. If you want to work with other objects, such as tiles, mugs, clocks and awards, sublimation would be your best bet. Both of these processes are excellent ways to transfer your images onto products to sell, give as gifts or keep for yourself. At Coastal Business Supplies, we can provide you with everything you need to bring your creativity to life.

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