Dye Sublimation vs. Screen Printing – Which is Better for T-Shirts?

Screen Printing and Dye Sublimation: How They Work

Dye sublimation is a technique for printing in which you use a special printer and a heat press to dye the T-shirt.

Screen printing is a technique for printing in which you use a squeegee to press ink onto your T-shirt through a stencil on a finely meshed screen. You can do your own screen printing by hand, or use an automated screen printing machine.

Should You Use Dye Sublimation or Screen Printing for Your Next T-shirt Project?

Both are great printing methods. It just depends on your preference, the material you are working with, and the nature of your project.

If you are making many T-shirts, screen printing is a more cost-effective approach.

Dye sublimation is better for small projects of just one or two T-shirts. The reason for this is because dye sublimation is more expensive and time-consuming. Therefore, dye sublimation is not very practical for bulk printing or large orders. Small orders, on the other hand, are not very practical for screen printing. The lengthy setup time required for screen printing is wasted on a single order. For this reason, many printing companies will require a minimum order amount to make screen printing cost-effective.

Screen printing is most effective on a flat surface and is used mostly for T-shirts and other apparel. Although it is most common for clothing, screen printing is super versatile and can be used to print on almost any substrate.

Dye sublimation is great for T-shirts, banners, and signs. You can use dye sublimation on hard surfaces that are treated with polymer as well as clothing. The biggest pitfall of dye sublimation is it only works on polyester and other synthetic materials, so you won’t be able to use the technique on cotton T-shirts at all.

One of the selling points of dye sublimation is that you get bright, vibrant colors. The drawback of this is that the process only works well on light-colored fabrics. You will not be able to see the results of dye sublimation on darker materials. Screen printing, on the other hand, can be done on any color material, and most fabrics.

The Setup: Dye Sublimation Versus Screen Printing

Setting up for screen printing takes both time and a lot of effort. The reason for this is because you can only apply one color at a time. If you have a project that involves more than one color, you will have to set up a stenciled screen for each color and make sure each one is aligned correctly so the layers will be lined up properly when printed.

Dye sublimation is a much simpler process to set up. You can print all the colors at one time. With dye sublimation, you are also able to customize your designs more quickly. All you have to do is edit the graphic file and print a new transfer using a dye sublimation printer. Screen printing, on the other hand, would require a whole new screen for any color or design changes.

What Colors Can You Use?

Dye sublimation and screen printing are both effective options for creating intricately detailed designs and photo-quality images on T-shirts. To achieve intricate photo designs through screen printing, you will need to use a four-color process using grids and tiny dots. This process takes both practice and patience because you will need to make sure the dots are aligned just right to achieve the desired look.

For dye sublimation, photo-quality printing is easy. Dye sublimation printers use a color combination of CMYO – cyan, magenta, yellow, and clear overcoat. This combination allows you to print any color without any further setup.

Dye sublimation is the easier, quicker method. You can create photo-realistic designs in any color you desire. However, a drawback to dye sublimation is that you are not able to do any special effects. Dye sublimation creates a flat print that becomes part of the fibers of the fabric. With screen printing, you can create special effects using different types of ink. Some of these effects include 3D prints, puff prints, and foil, shiny, or glow in the dark colors.

Dye sublimation is the go-to printing method for a graphic that adds no weight to the T-shirt, resulting in a super-soft finish. You can achieve lasting soft results with screen printing too. You have to choose the right inks. Use water-based ink to make this effect through screen printing and produce a design that won’t fade or peel with lots of washings.

Why You Should Choose Dye Sublimation:

  • The four-color CMYK method means you can use any color and any number of colors at no additional time or cost.
  • Dye sublimation is cost-effective for low volume projects or projects with a lot of colors.
  • Dye sublimation is the go-to method for polyester garments.

Why You Should Choose Screen Printing:

  • You can use a variety of ink types to create special effects, including 3D and foil designs.
  • Screen printing is cost-effective for high volume orders.
  • You can screen print on almost any fabric.

Which is Better?

So, the answer to which method is better? It depends on your project and your preferences! Dye sublimation and screen printing are both great for creating custom T-shirts. There are benefits and drawbacks to both methods. When deciding which approach to go with, think about the specific project you are working on, what you are trying to achieve, what materials you have to work with, and your budget. All of these things will need to be taken into consideration before you begin.