Dye sublimation vs screen printing

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.

What is Dye Sublimation Printing

What is Dye Sublimation Printing and How Does it Work for Shirts?

What is Dye Sublimation?

Dye sublimation is a custom printing method in which you start with a mirror image print of your design on special heat transfer paper and then use a heat press to apply the design, called a “substrate” to your T-shirt.

Dye sublimation is the go-to printing technique for anything polyester. Print a high-resolution photo or graphic to make a unique T-shirt, tank top, tennis shoes, baseball cap, or anything else you can think of that is made from polyester.

How Does Dye Sublimation Work for T-Shirts?

Water-based ink is used in dye sublimation because it turns into a gas when heated and will bond to polyester materials. This process is excellent for T-shirts because it creates a vibrant graphic that will not wash away, peel, or crack over time. The reason this works like a charm is that dye sublimation doesn’t add ink to the surface of the fabric, but changes the color of the fabric. You end up with a soft, smooth result where all you feel is the T-shirt, rather than anything printed on top of the material.

Dye Sublimation in Two Easy Steps

If you want to give the art of dye sublimation a try for yourself, grab these tools, and follow just two simple steps.

Dye Sublimation Tools

  • Dye Sublimation Printer
  • Heat Press
  • Transfer Paper
  • Disperse Dyes
  • Polyester Fabric
  • Contact Thermometer (Not required, but recommended)

Step One: The Printer

Use the dye sublimation printer and special sublimation ink to print your logo or graphic onto a sheet of transfer paper.

Step Two: The Heat Press

Place the transfer paper onto the surface of the T-shirt where you want the graphic to be and apply heat with the heat press. Heat presses vary in size and purpose. However, despite these differences, all heat presses work in the same fundamental way.

The amount of time you will need to apply heat will vary depending on the material on which you are working. Typically, 390-400 degrees Fahrenheit will heat the ink on the transfer paper and the polyester fibers simultaneously, resulting in a transfer of the ink to the fabric. Wait between 30-60 seconds depending on heat and material, then remove the heat and transfer paper. Ta da! You now have a permanent graphic on your T-shirt.

If the heat transfer does not come out right, it is likely due to the wrong time or heat settings. Another possible cause of a transfer mishap is the temperature of the heat press. On some heat presses, the displayed temperature may not always match the actual temperature. To avoid this problem, you may want to have a contact thermometer at hand and adjust the temperature settings as needed.

Heat presses come in the following basic types:

  • The small format heat press (16×20) is for small items like tennis shoes, tank tops, or T-shirts.
  • The flatbed heat press is for polyester fabric and other polymers on hard surfaces.
  • The 3D vacuum heat press is for pre-treated polymer materials that have a curved shape like mugs, phone and laptop cases, and buttons.
  • The large format heat press is for large materials like signs and banners.

Ready to get your design printed on a custom T-shirt through dye sublimation? Let AA Custom T-Shirt Printing do the printing for you!