What Is the Difference Between Screen Printing & Sublimation? Update 06/2022

Creating personalized t-shirts with a polished appearance may be just what you’re after. Shirts printed with screen printing and sublimation are some of the most long-lasting you’ll ever get your hands on. Sublimation vs screen printing: Which is better for your needs?

Different techniques are employed by screen printing and sublimation to produce long-lasting and high-quality prints. With a stencil, thick ink, and a heat source, screen printing takes a long time. Sublimation printing uses a chemical technique to adhere to polyester fibers, and it takes only a few minutes.

Find out which printing method takes longer and costs more in this post. Each printing method has its own unique advantages and disadvantages. Sublimation and screen printing will be compared and contrasted in the end.

What is Screen Printing?

What is Screen Printing

Using a stencil and squeegee, screen printing ink is squeezed through a screen and onto cloth, creating many layers of design. Known as silk screening, this type of printing is one of the first kinds of art ever created! Thick, raised designs are produced on the t-surface. shirt’s

Printmakers and amateurs alike continue to rely on this process despite its long history. Inks used in screen printing are thick enough to leave a raised, slightly 3D design on top of the t-shirt. This makes for high-quality graphics. In addition, this technique allows you to screen print on virtually any type or shade of fabric.

In the same way, screen printing is not without its drawbacks. Using stenciled screens, you can only apply one layer of color at a time, therefore this method works best for designs with limited colors. If you want to print a meme or a photo on a t-shirt, this isn’t the best option.

This works best on flat surfaces, like a piece of smooth fabric. A cup or a baseball cap would be difficult to screen print on.

In other words, how does screen printing work?

  1. Take an image or logo and break it down into its component colors one at a time. Graphic design software is used by the majority of specialists in this field to speed things up! Alternatively, a one-color pattern or lettering might be used.
  2. You’ll need a mesh screen and a stencil for each color you intend to use. You might think of a stencil as a blank canvas around which you can paint your image. Use a Cricut and vinyl to cut the stencil, or go the professional route by making your own light-sensitive emulsion the way you would when developing antique photographs.
  3. Next, apply a thick coating of plastisol ink on the stencil and smooth it out.
  4. Push the ink through the mesh screen’s unstenciled areas with a special squeegee.
  5. Each color layer must be applied one at a time through its own screen if your design includes numerous colors.
  6. The ink will be dried and solidified using a heat press.

It takes time and talent to set up a screen print, but once you get it right, you can use it again and again. For large runs of shirts, screen printing is an excellent option because you can simply reuse your screens to create additional shirts with the same design!

What is Sublimation?

What is Sublimation

Synthetic fibers are chemically bonded by heat and pressure in the process of sublimation. Professional printers and small-business owners alike are quickly adopting this new printing technology, thanks to the long-lasting and vibrant results it produces. In addition, the CYMK printer type uses the entire digital color scale, allowing you to print full-color graphics or photos utilizing sublimation.

The chemical process of sublimation entails the conversion of a solid straight into a gas. Objects often go from a solid state to a liquid state to a gas state as you recall from high school science. Bypassing the liquid stage, sublimation produces gas in its place.

The intense heat of a heat press sublimates the dye onto a particular transfer paper in t-shirt printing. As a gas, the dye penetrates the shirt’s fabric to do its work. Heat also breaks down polymer fibers in polyester fabric, allowing the gaseous color to penetrate into the cloth’s fibers and become embedded.

At this point in time, ink has become a part of the fabric on a molecular level and can’t be separated from it! It’s important to note that because of this, a sublimation print will remain as long as the shirt itself.

What you need to know about sublimation printing:

  1. A high-quality digital design is the first step. High-resolution images that you create or download into a design application are acceptable. Make sure to mirror the image so that it doesn’t appear backwards on your shirt in most circumstances!
  2. Set up a sublimation printer using sublimation inks, and then proceed to print your artwork. Sublimation printers are quite similar to laser printers, except that they require a special sublimation ink to print. Cyan, magenta, yellow, and black ink cartridges are still used.
  3. Print your design onto a piece of sublimation transfer paper and place it in the printer. Use the transfer immediately or reserve it for later.
  4. It may take some practice to apply the transfer to the shirt. You need to remove any lint, dust, or wrinkles from the surface of the shirt (or other object). Then use heat-resistant tape to keep the transfer paper in place.
  5. Make sure to finish off by pressing your garments using a heat press.

Sublimation is a simple process that doesn’t take long. If you only need one or two bespoke prints, this is a perfect option. Hard surfaces like mugs and banners with polymer coatings can also be used for sublimation printing.

Only synthetics or objects with a polymer coating can benefit from sublimation. Cotton is ineligible for use.

Sublimation can’t be used on dark-colored fabrics, either. White or light colored polyester t-shirts go best with this.

Screen Printing vs Sublimation: Key Points

Screen printing and sublimation both have their advantages and disadvantages.

Screen PrintingDigital Printing
DurabilityDurable but will crack and peel after many washesExtremely durable and will last as long as the shirt fabric
QualityHigh-quality with raised designs and good visual and tactile contrastHigh-quality with vivid colors and lots of detail
ComplexityLimitedEasily creates detailed, complex designs
ConsistencyVery consistent and easily makes duplicatesConsistent, but requires printing a new transfer sheet for each shirt
Cost EfficiencyCost-efficient for batch printingCost-efficient for small custom orders
Multi-Color PrintsDifficult, works better with few colorsEasily makes multi-color images such as photos
Color BlendingPossible but requires time and skillEasily done digitally
Set-Up Time and CostRequires a lot of set-up time. Cost varies based on size of order and complexity of design.Little set-up time. Does require some pricey equipment as a start-up cost.
QuantityEasily creates large batches of the same design.Can make large or small batches without any difference in the amount of time required for each shirt.
Best Fabric100% cotton100% polyester
Special EffectsMany available, including glitter inks or 3D effectsLimited
Best forBold, one or two-color designs on a contrasting color of shirtDetailed multi-colored designs on white shirts
Average Cost Per ShirtVaries a lot, $15-$45 on averageVaries a lot, $15-$45 on av

What’s the Difference Between Screen Printing and Sublimation?

Screen Printing vs Sublimation

The primary distinction between screen printing and sublimation printing is the way ink is applied to the shirt during the printing process. Unlike screen printing, sublimation uses a chemical technique that bonds pigment to the fibers of the fabric.

Due to the specific printing procedures employed in each process, both approaches produce high-quality designs.

Durability

Sublimation prints last longer than screen-printed designs. Screenprints hold up well through many washes, but eventually, you will see the raised-ink design crack or begin to peel away from the fabric. Sublimation designs will never crack, peel, or fade because the dye bonds deep beneath the surface of the fabric.

Many printers believed that screen printing offered the greatest long-lasting option for t-shirt design until the discovery of sublimation. You can use sublimation, but you can still get a lot of use out of screen printing! Plastisol ink, which is used in screenprints, is a unique type of dye that can withstand the test of time.

Quality

There is a difference between sublimation and screen printing in quality. Prints made using sublimation technology have vibrant colors that won’t fade with time. This printing technology is also known for its ability to produce high-quality, multi-colored images.

Using fewer colors, screenprints produce elevated motifs that feature a striking contrast in color and texture. Compared to a standard DTG print, the designs are elegant and will last for a long time.

Complexity

In most circumstances, sublimation printing can produce more complicated designs than screen printing. This is because when you utilize the sublimation method, you print a computer image directly onto a transfer paper.

First, you need to create a stencil for the screen printing process. In order to create detailed stencils that are similar to a photo negative, you’ll need to make an emulsion that works like one. To create an intricate screen print stencil, you’ll need a lot of chemicals, a lot of expertise, and a lot of time.

As a result, creating intricate sublimation prints is a lot simpler. In this method, you create a high-quality digital image using graphic design software before printing. Printing the design directly onto a transfer paper is easy because the printer performs all the work for you!

Consistency

Screenprinting and sublimation both allow you to reproduce the same design over and over. Ink smudges and dust particles might produce minor variations between the two approaches.

Screen printing provides a high degree of repeatability due to the fact that you may reuse individual color screens multiple times to produce the same design. You may see a smudge here or there from one design to the next over time. Screen printing, on the other hand, allows for greater design uniformity.

To manufacture a second shirt using sublimation printing, all that is required is for you to print your computer picture onto transfer paper once more. In order to minimize ghosting or dust smudges caused by lint or moving transfer paper, you must carefully set up the transfer on each shirt one at a time to avoid the risk of variance.

Cost-Efficiency

Sublimation is a more cost-effective method for printing t-shirts for specific customers. For large-scale orders of the same design, screen printing is more cost-effective than digital printing.

You’d be wasting a lot of time and money if you set up a screen print for only one or two shirts. You’ll save time and work if you can reuse your screen ten, twenty, or even a hundred times for a single order.

A sublimation print demands the same amount of effort every time you manufacture a shirt. Despite the fact that it isn’t a lot of work, it does mean that you can produce one shirt as cheaply as 10.

Multi-Colored Prints

When it comes to multi-colored prints, sublimation is superior to screen printing. This is due to the fact that in screenprinting, each color must be separated and applied one layer at a time.

Many professional screen printers rely on enormous machines with many arms, each arm holding a screen, to apply many colors to a picture. However, the setup process is lengthy and laborious.

Printing using a sublimation printer allows you to produce multicolored images by simply mixing the fundamental colors. However, white fabric is the ideal choice for these patterns. On a darker background, the designs will be obscured.

What is it about white fabric that makes sublimation work best? Because of two factors. CYMK printers are incapable of printing white ink. Think about it: you can’t make white by blending different hues! To get the white cloth to show through, you’ll need to leave some white space in your photograph or image.

There are two reasons for this: First, you won’t see the ink very clearly on blue fabric. To see a sublimation print, you’ll need a dark ink and a light fabric. Using screen printing, which can be done on any color shirt, has this advantage.

Color Blending

In both sublimation and screen printing, color blending and getting shades of colors just right is a challenge, however the procedure is different in each approach.

In most cases, screen printing requires you to mix your own colors by hand. They may utilize paint-blenders similar to those found at your local Home Depot (like the ones you can buy on Amazon!). In any case, this means that the colors you use in your mixed shades will be different from project to project.

To achieve interesting ombre effects, some artists will mix colors straight on the screen, but this too requires a lot of ability!

Color blending in a sublimation print appears simple at first glance. Because the printer blends the fundamental CYMK colors to print onto transfer paper, you don’t have to do this yourself! However, there’s a snag to this plan.

ICC profiles are required for proper color reproduction in sublimation printing. How we see color, how a computer screen displays it, and how printers mix inks are all different! Using an ICC profile, the printer is able to reproduce colors exactly as you see them on your computer screen.

Set-Up Time and Costs

Screen printing often necessitates more setup time, although sublimation prints might be more expensive. Screen printing. However, this really changes according on the design you wish to print!

Printing on transfer paper for sublimation printing takes some time to set up. In some situations, you may be able to avoid this step entirely by having the transfers done for you by a third party!

Even for a simple one-color design, screen printing requires a significant amount of time to set up. For this project, you’ll need to create a stencil and then ink the screen. Each color in a multi-color design requires a distinct stencil and screen.

In most cases, the cost of each printing process is determined by the amount of equipment you need.

Sublimation printing requires a specialized printer and inks designed for the process. You’ll also need transfer paper, polyester shirts, or other polymer-coated blanks to create your own designs.

If you want to do screen printing, you may either buy pricey equipment or construct your own mesh screens out of inexpensive craft supplies. When making screen prints, you’ll need plastisol inks, but you can do so without breaking the bank.

However, a heat press is required for both screen printing and sublimation.

Quantity

Screen printing is the most efficient method for mass-producing t-shirts, however sublimation can be used to make identical designs.

Once you’ve taken the time to set up your screens, you’ll be able to screen print numerous copies quickly and easily with the same screens. Reapplying ink and pushing it through the same stencil multiple times is all that’s required.

You can print numerous copies of the same design onto transfer paper for sublimation printing. Then, using a heat press, apply the transfer to each shirt one by one. Sublimation, on the other hand, makes it much easier to print tiny batches. Because the setup time is minimal, you can get away with making only one or two copies.

Best Fabrics

Polyester is the best sublimation fabric, while cotton is the best screenprinting fabric. However, if you wish to print on a blend of polyester and cotton, you can do so using both methods.

Screen printing may be done on a variety of fabrics, including polyester, but it requires a few specialized techniques. In contrast, only fabrics with a high percentage of polyester are suitable for sublimation. Chemical dye bonding in the sublimating process necessitates the use of synthetic polymers.

Special Effects

Screenprinting allows for a wide range of special effects, while sublimation does not.

Many unusual inks can be used by screen printers, including clear inks, glitter inks, and 3D inks. Using particular ink application procedures, mesh screens can be used to create designs that look like they were painted by hand. Special effects in screen printing are only limited by the amount of time and money you’re willing to invest.

Printing with sublimation has greater restrictions. If you want, you can print on shirts with a tiny percentage of cotton to give them an antique, worn appearance. Glitter ink is out of the question because you have to rely on what your printer can do.

Best For

For vivid, raised designs on any color shirt, screen printing is the finest option. Multiple colors can be used in this procedure, but the greatest results are achieved with only a few colors. Screenprinting makes it simple to print large quantities in one go, making it ideal for large orders.

When applied to white polyester t-shirts, sublimation produces crisp, multicolored prints with ease. If you want to manufacture just one or two custom-ordered shirts, this method is the most cost-effective option.

Average Cost Per Shirt

Customers should expect to pay anything from $15.00 to $45.00 on average for a shirt that has been screen printed or sublimated. It’s because different companies and artists put in wildly varied amounts of setup work and cost depending on the shirt’s style.

You can get 50 screen-printed tees with your company’s logo printed on them for as little as $10 or $15 if you order them in bulk. The printer will need to apply special effects, many screens, and a slew of sophisticated stencils if you want a multicolored screen print of a sparkling dragon. Printing costs will skyrocket when you use the second design!

Bulk discounts are more common with screen printers, although they may not be available with sublimation printers.

The printer’s typical cost per garment can also vary greatly. Blank shirts, which can cost anywhere from $1 to $10, are required. The price depends on the type and quality of shirt you choose. You can save money by buying in bulk, but you may have to pay extra for a high-performance sports uniform made out of polyester.

The cost of the ink and materials you use, as well as the time you spend setting up the print, must also be considered. Equipment costs must also be taken into consideration. In order to cover the start-up costs of an expensive printer, you will need to charge a percentage of the cost of each shirt sold in order to earn a profit.

Are Screen Print Transfers the Same as Sublimation?

Screenprint transfers vs sublimation transfers

If you want a sublimation transfer, you’ll need to use screenprint transfers. Despite the fact that this can be a little confusing, the main difference is the ink used.

Plastisol ink is used in screen printing to create the fabric’s iconic raised, plasticky pattern. In some circumstances, screen printing directly onto fabric is preferable to screen printing onto transfers, which may then be applied to the garment with heat. However, the design on the transfer paper is still created using a mesh screen and plastisol ink.

Sublimation uses sublimation ink to print directly onto the transfer paper. As soon as the ink is heated, it turns gaseous and then chemically bonds with the fabric’s fibers. After that, you just peel off the paper to reveal the ink still adhered to the fabric.

In the end, both screen printing and sublimation are capable of printing ink onto transfer paper, but the ink attaches to the garment in a different fashion.

In addition, a screen print cannot be sublimated ( or at least not easily). Heat-transfer vinyl can be printed directly onto a shirt to create raised, 3D sublimation effects or sublimation on a dark-colored shirt.

In rare circumstances, you can even screen print on vinyl to achieve unique effects.

Screen Printing vs Digital Printing

Screen Printing vs Digital Printing

Digital printing cannot compete with the high-quality and long-lasting prints that can be achieved using screen printing. Ink is applied directly to the fabric using special printers. Direct-to-garment printing, or DTG, is the cheapest professional printing technology, however it does not produce high-quality or long-lasting graphics in the majority of cases.

Screenprints can withstand many washes without fading or cracking, making them ideal for clothing. After a few washes, DTG designs tend to fade and lose their vibrancy.

It’s possible that sublimation will eventually displace direct-to-garment printing (DTP) as the most cost-effective method of creating vibrant, long-lasting graphics.

Screen Printing vs Heat Transfer Vs Sublimation

Heat tranfer printing

Screen printing, heat transfers, and sublimation all employ different inks and methods for applying dye.

Plastisol ink is sprayed through a stencil onto the fabric to create patterns.

Designs are created on special transfer paper using a laser printer and transferred using heat. When heated, this transfer will stick to the shirt like HTV. Underneath the pattern, a papery, thick surface is created.

To transform the dye gas into a molecular link with the fabric fibers, heat is used in sublimation.

All methods have their advantages and disadvantages. Screen printing produces a more artistic, high-quality look than sublimation, although sublimation is still the most long-lasting option. You can easily produce heat transfers at home for a fraction of the cost, but they don’t hold up as well and don’t always look great.

Screen Print vs Vinyl vs Sublimation

Screen Print vs Vinyl vs Sublimation

All three methods use various techniques to create unique designs on a t-shirt, and this is the most important difference between them. However, all three of these design possibilities result in high-quality graphics on tees!

Screen printing is a favorite of many artists because it allows for a wide range of creative expression and results in designs with striking contrasts in color and texture.

There are also various special effects and minimal start-up expenses for a new printer with heat transfer vinyl, or HTV. The vinyl shapes are cut out with an electrical cutting machine and then heated to cling to the shirt.

In order to create the most durable designs, sublimation printing requires a sublimation printer and dyes. Screen printing and HTV are unable to produce multi-colored designs as easily with this method.

Shirts can be made using any of these methods. All you have to do is choose between a more durable effect and a lower cost, depending on your preferences. Instead of using special effects, you may use multi-colored designs.

Screen Printing vs Sublimation: Which is Better?

T-shirts can be customized in a variety of ways using screen printing or sublimation. If you’re still undecided, here are some of the advantages and disadvantages of each approach.

Benefits of sublimation include: The dye adheres to the fibers of the fabric, making it extremely durable and easy to make multi-color designs. Aside from creating eye-catching patterns on flat fabric, it can also be used on a variety of other materials.

Sublimation can only be used on polyester or polymer-coated surfaces, which is a drawback. The hue works best on white or light-colored surfaces, but not on dark materials.

The advantages of screen printing are that it provides a unique, raised design that is distinct from other printing methods. It’s incredibly stylish and long-lasting, however eventually the design will wear off. When you reuse screens, you can easily fill large orders.

Screen printing, on the other hand, has its drawbacks. A single, two, or three-color design works well. Making the stencils for each color screen demands a significant amount of setup time before printing can begin.

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