Which Is Better for T-Shirts: Screen Printing or Sublimation?

When it comes to making custom printed products, is sublimation better than screen printing? These two printing processes have key benefits and drawbacks that depend on the project you’re doing. Here’s a basic guide to the difference between sublimation vs. screen printing.

The processes

The key distinction between sublimation vs. screen printing is the process. Sublimation is a digital printing process that requires a specialty printer. To start the process, you print a mirror image of your chosen design onto transfer paper. The transfer is then applied to a substrate using a heat press, which sublimates the ink on the transfer paper, changing the ink from a solid to a gas without ever becoming liquid. The gas ink then penetrates the material being embellished.

Screen printing is a bit more manual. The design is transferred to a mesh screen with a stencil, and each screen corresponds to a color in the design. You can create screens for screen printing by using masking tape or vinyl to cover desired areas, by using a light-sensitive emulsion to create a stencil similar to photographic processes or by painting directly on the mesh. The design is transferred to the medium of choice as the press operator pushes ink with a squeegee through the stencil onto the material below.

Order volume considerations

The amount of goods you’re embellishing with a design usually determines whether sublimation or screen printing is the ideal printing process. If you’re making a large volume of items, screen printing is typically best. Dye sublimation, on the other hand, is a more time-consuming process, but the colors are brighter and more vibrant than with screen printing.

Substrate considerations

Screen printing is very versatile, allowing you to print on virtually any type of fabric or garment. It’s ideal for other substrates as well, although the surface needs to be flat for best results. Dye sublimation is more limited in its applications. You can only print on polyester or other synthetic garments, and you’re limited to printing on light backgrounds. For example, printing on a dark-colored t-shirt should be done by screen printing processes rather than dye sublimation.

Design complexity considerations

You can get a great level of detail in your prints with both screen printing and dye sublimation, but it’s easier to achieve a great range of colors with dye sublimation. It takes extensive experience and a precise setup to get the same range of colors with screen printing. Keep in mind that dye sublimation prints are absorbed into garment fibers, so you can’t get the foil, shimmer, 3D effects and other special details you can achieve with screen printing.

So, to answer the question “Is sublimation better than screen printing?” the answer is that it depends entirely on your projects and your preferences. Each method has its advantages and potential drawbacks. If you’re looking to bring your designs to life, 3 in 1 Designs can help. Whether you’re in need of a custom t-shirt or a colorful banner or sign, working with the experts ensures exceptional results.