Four Dye Sublimation Tricks to Brighten and Improve Quality (2023)

WITH THE INJECTION of performance fabrics and garments being developed for many niche markets, the demand for innovative ways to decorate them has drastically increased. Enter dye sublimation printing. The beautiful thing about this process is the lack of any “print feel” to the garment. Because it takes a white fiber and dyes it through heat and pressure, there’s no residual ink on the surface to create a texture or to block airflow. Many sport teams have moved toward sublimated apparel for training gear and uniforms because the garment retains all of the dry-wicking properties that an undecorated garment would, plus it’s a lot more colorful.

To create a sublimated product is a relatively simple process:

  • The artwork is adjusted and sized in the computer for printing.
  • The design is then printed as a mirror image onto a sublimation paper using an inkjet printer that has been loaded with sublimation inks.
  • These inks are then trapped into the coating on the paper.
  • Next, the paper with the sublimation print is aligned with the product area that is to be decorated. In the case of a garment, the shirt is either printed as pieces of fabric prior to being sewn together, or the print is applied to a finished T-shirt.
  • If the garment is being decorated prior to being sewn, it’s likely a much larger image and print will be used. As a result, a much larger heat press will be needed to create the fabric piece for the front and back of the shirt. Often the sleeves are done at the same time to save steps.
  • The aligned garment and print are then heat pressed at the right temperature and pressure to convert the solid ink on the coated paper into a gas that can penetrate the fabric fibers.
  • Once the heat press is finished, the paper is peeled off of the fabric or garment and the print is ready to wear. (In some cases, a sublimated print may require additional heat or steps to properly “set” the dye so it doesn’t come out in the wash).

This process is almost always done on a polyester garment because it’s the best fabric for absorbing the dye into the fibers. There are some garments that have a cotton base with a polyester coating or poly fibers woven into the cotton to give printers additional options, but the optimal surface to sublimate is one that will completely accept the process of dyeing from the ink as it turns into a gas.

Assuming you’re comfortable with the basics of the process, and you have a clear idea of what types of garments you can do, it’s beneficial to consider a few quick tips to make your prints as good as they can be: learning the color progression of sublimation, adjusting your design comps to fit the products, using the nature of sublimation in your designs, and understanding outsourcing vs printing in-house.

Learning the Color Progression of Sublimation

For printers who may be first venturing into sublimation, it’s crucially important to understand how color is adjusted during the dying process. When color is absorbed through the fibers, there’s always a tendency for additional saturation and other color shifts to occur. A slight variation in the brightness of the fabric that will be sublimated can influence the final product, too. The fact is, white is almost never a balanced white. The white in a fabric will tend to be slightly blue or magenta or even green. The slight tint to your white surface can show up in a subtle sublimation print and make your lighter colors shift slightly in accordance to their tendency.

This is why sublimation prints are often intentionally brighter and created with richer colors as these will show less variation in subtle ways after the process is done. The key is to spend some time and properly profile your process all the way through, prior to doing a production run. Often a printer will not want to spend the time and money to do this because sublimation inks are not cheap, but creating a color profile can save enormous headaches if it’s done well and be used as a standard for a process baseline to compare against.

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If you’re going to do a sublimated print on a garment, get a sample of the product or the fabric to test. You can then do a sublimated profile and see what happens to the colors after they’ve been applied to the fabric. Once you have this reference, you can go back and adjust your RIP if you need to make some curves for that specific item. A good RIP for a sublimated printer should allow you to save recipes for different types of fabrics and coatings so you can have a streamlined process for a later production run. You may find you have to adjust your colors or dial back on your black to keep the design from becoming too heavy looking and over-saturated.

(Video) 6 Tips for Perfect Colors in Dye Sublimation With Your Epson Workforce WF-7720 Printer

Note: Most companies that sell sublimated equipment, inks, and printers have color profiling processes they recommend. It’s always a good idea to use these processes first and then you can adjust if needed after you become more comfortable. Reverse engineering a print to RIP is a last resort and only used for occasional images that are very troublesome and hard to match.

Four Dye Sublimation Tricks to Brighten and Improve Quality (1)

The majority of less expensive printers for sublimation are CMYK printers, so it’s important you know how to adjust images for CMYK and what the process of conversion will do to an oversaturated RGB image when it’s converted to the smaller gamut. Not only will a color conversion occasionally shift the hues on your colors, the resulting files may come out with unpleasant “color pollution” in your CMYK. In some cases, your royal blue will have significant yellow or black in it and your bright red may have cyan in it. These issues can make your final print appear dull or “bleedy,” so knowing how to correct them in RGB prior to conversion can be a useful step. Having a printed reference of a CMYK output on the specific intended fabric (see Figure 1) has helped me. When you have a printed resource of the output from your sublimated process, you can head off potential problems at the digital file stage, rather than waiting to see them on a printed piece. If you have a bright royal blue to print on a garment, you can reference the brightest royal blue on your example print, and then find the CMYK value on the digital source file (something like 100 cyan, 80 magenta). You can take these percentages and replace the color in your new art file to make sure you have the best possible outcome on the print. If nothing else, walking through this process will make you familiar with optimal color percentages for your brighter colors so you can catch a serious color shift and avoid a bad print on a finished garment.

Adjusting Your Design Comps to Fit the Garment

The exciting part of creating artwork for pre-constructed garments is there are less limitations on the type of designs and layouts you do. You can freely go off of the edges of the print areas because when the garment is constructed it will be cut down and sewn together. When I started looking at rash guards and other compression gear, concerns to designing for these types of garments became quickly apparent.

Four Dye Sublimation Tricks to Brighten and Improve Quality (2)

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One of the biggest challenges I encountered was trying to figure out how the design was going to conform to the finished garment. Because I was creating artwork for rash guard shirts and pants, these items would be sublimated as fabric pieces prior to construction, but this also meant I couldn’t be entirely sure how the design would wrap around the torso and limbs. To avoid a bad prototype and multiple revisions, I worked with the company and requested an exact pattern to map my design to the fabric shapes for the sleeves and the main shirt areas (see Figure 2). Doing this certainly helped, but I still didn’t know how the design would look when it was curved over someone’s body.

The best way to check and adjust your designs for mapping them onto a body is to have 3D software that maps the design onto an actual body shape. If you don’t have this technology available,the next best thing is to get the most common size that will be ordered as a blank and find someone to put it on for you. When you have your model who’s wearing the garment you can map some paper or fabric prints of your design onto the shapes to check the sizing.

This “real person” check for sublimation designing is very important if you have logos that need to be legible on specific areas of the garment. You’ll know right away if your logo will fall too low on the chest and become distorted or wrap around the arm and become unreadable. This could cause a client to return an order for a logoed garment, so it’s critical to properly size and accommodate the distortion and sizing/positioning of design elements that need to be legible. Another really important step is to measure from a fixed point that will stay similar, independent of the shirt size, like the color or seam on the shoulder. You can then describe the necessary location of the printed elements to your sublimation printer or keep it for your records so the next order will match the first one. If possible, also keep a finished garment for a reference (see Figure 3).

Four Dye Sublimation Tricks to Brighten and Improve Quality (3)

If you’re printing sublimation on a finished garment it’s a good idea to understand the sizing spread of the order and make sure to accommodate the differences to the output. You wouldn’t want the logo to fall off the sides of a smaller garment or to look too small on a XXL, so you’ll have to properly account for the differences and/or make sure you output different size prints if necessary.

(Video) How to make Sublimation Prints more Vibrant

Using the Nature of Sublimation in Your Designs

This tip can sound a little abstract, but essentially it means as you design for the sublimation process it’s helpful to consider how the properties of the method will affect a design’s final appearance. Because it’s common for a sublimated shirt to be created prior to being constructed, it’s often a great idea to use repeating or random patterns in your design comps to avoid awkward outcomes depending on how the art will cut across the seams of the shirt (see Figure 4).

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Four Dye Sublimation Tricks to Brighten and Improve Quality (4)

Another way to utilize the sublimation process in your designs is to remember that colors will tend to saturate and get deeper as they are pressed, so creating designs that have a darker foundation of background color or have deeper colors, will aid in making the final product look richer and more vibrant (see Figure 5).

Four Dye Sublimation Tricks to Brighten and Improve Quality (5)

When creating designs that have a rhythm and specific flow to emphasize the shapes they’re fitting on top of, like fitness or athletic apparel, it’s useful to have darker values at the bottom of the garment that transition to lighter shapes at the top. This effect will assist in the illusion that the body shape is smaller near the waist and larger in the chest, which can add aesthetic appeal to the design when it’s worn or put on a mannequin in a display. You can also look at the divisions of the muscle groups on the body and specifically create your design to flow with those shapes when worn. Imagine a sublimated superhero suit that perfectly fits the athlete with the shading in the right places and you’ll get the idea. Even though not everyone may want to look like a superhero, understanding how some subtle design considerations will enhance the look of the person wearing the graphic can dramatically increase the appeal of your final printed product.

Understanding Outsourcing vs. Printing In-House

There’s a big difference between doing an occasional sublimated print and deciding to offer the process as a volume production solution for your business. Printers who have committed to a volume of sublimated production will need to set up their shop with several sublimation printers, including oversize output devices and oversize heat press machines. If your shop is seeing a steady increase and demand for sublimated garments it may be time to consider your options based on what your goals are and what your customers are looking for. If you start getting complex jobs, but aren’t used to this work, it may be helpful, at first, to outsource this work.

It takes a lot of experience in printing, positioning, and heat pressing to get consistent results, and mistakes can be very costly. There are many printers who offer sublimated services domestically and internationally who have a lot of experience and all the right equipment to complete complex jobs economically and in fast turn-arounds.

If you decide to make sublimation a part of your decorated apparel services then take the time to look at the variety of printers and equipment to best match what you’ll want to offer your customers. Many of the printing supply companies will have resources for you to obtain training in each of the steps of creating quality sublimated apparel, so take advantage of education as early in the process as possible. If you’re a startup, reach out to experienced decorators who specialize in the sublimated method. You can ask to shadow their production team, or even outsource some work and follow the order as it’s being produced. As long as you’re not a competitor, you may get lucky and find a company that will share their expertise; this can save you an enormous amount of time and money.

You should properly weigh the value of outsourcing and utilize it when needed, instead of trying to do everything yourself right out of the gate. Once you and your team have the right equipment and training, then you’ll be ready to develop your own successful sublimation house. This can include finishing elements like sewing and tagging if you’re looking at pre-constructed production.

(Video) Sublimation Paper, Light Transfer & Dark Transfer Paper - Dye Sublimation Supplies

Finding the Right Sublimated Solution for You

Sublimated garments can be some of the most dramatic and creative looking apparel products available today. With the removal of limitations in size, colors, locations, and the lack of print feel,
a sublimated garment is the perfectoption for customers in niche markets who are willing to pay a top rate forapparel with these features.

Many printers avoid offering sublimation, or feel it isn’t a good fit for their customers, without taking the time to seriously look at the limitations and advantages in the process. If you know how to work with the image colors, adjust the design for the shape of the product, use the qualities of the process in your designs, and make educated decisions about outsourcing, the dye sublimation printing process can be an unbeatable combination in your corner.

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Four Dye Sublimation Tricks to Brighten and Improve Quality (6)

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FAQs

How do I make my sublimation color brighter? ›

Try using a higher heat setting on your printer. This will cause the dyes to sublimate more completely, resulting in brighter prints. Heat press. Use a heat press with even pressure to ensure good results.

What color mode is best for sublimation? ›

Printing applications such as dye sublimation and paper printing mostly use CMYK colour space files as the inks used are physically CMYK inks. These printers begin with a white fabric base or white paper stock and the colour is then added to it, making it a perfect fit with the CMYK process.

Is dye sublimation high quality? ›

Compared with other common printing techniques, dye sublimation printing has a number of advantages: Continuous tone – Each and every dot of ink in sublimation printing can be a different color. For this reason, sublimated graphics appear high-resolution and have amazing color fidelity, even under a microscope.

Why are my sublimation colors not bright? ›

It's absolutely normal for sublimation ink to look dull when it's first printed. Once the print is sublimated onto the substrate with high heat and pressure, the ink converts to a gas and infuses into the polyester material and the colors will become bold, bright, and vibrant.

Why does my sublimation look faded? ›

Why are my images coming out faded? Image fading is usually caused by too much time and temperature, and/or pressure. We suggest double-checking the recommended settings from the company where you purchased your sublimation blanks. Every heat press is different, which is something to bear in mind.

Should I use RGB or CMYK for sublimation? ›

When working with sublimation, activate a specific RGB profile to produce accurate colours, unless working with a RIP, which uses CMYK. Many graphic artists design in CMYK colour mode because this is the most appropriate for commercial printing.

What is the best image format for sublimation printing? ›

For dye-sublimation printing, always provide your artwork in CMYK. This way, even if further adjustments are necessary to get the right results, they will be minimal when compared to submitting it in RGB. If there isn't any color in the images, a grayscale file is the better option.

What is dye sublimation process? ›

Dye sublimation is a digital printing technology that uses heat transfer to apply an image to the intended substrate. Also referred to as digital sublimation, the process is commonly used for decorating apparel, signs and banners as well as other items with sublimation-friendly surfaces.

What is the benefit of sublimation? ›

Sublimation gets rid of most of the drawbacks of screen printing. The ink is essentially made a part of the fabric, so your design will last as long as the garment does. The other main advantage of dye-sublimation printing is its freedom. Traditional garment printing methods often stretch and blur the design.

Is dye sublimation waterproof? ›

A: The finished design is very waterproof. The ink itself is water soluble before undergoing the sublimation process.

What pressure do you use for sublimation? ›

If you are pressing fabrics, the typical recommended pressure is 400 F. This temperature changes slightly for rigid-surface items. The recommended temperature for those is 385 F.

How do you stop yellowing when sublimating? ›

Ironing on just on spot overheating and cause yellowing. Even in a circular motion, you can burn the transfer if you do it too long. It is recommended to iron for the right time which is mentioned on the transfer. If you are transferring a logo make sure you don't spend much time ironing the transfer.

Can you over heat sublimation? ›

Do not overheat the substrate! Applying a sublimated transfer to a hot surface will start the gassing process prematurely, which may lead to ghosting.

How do I make my Epson printer color brighter? ›

You can use the product's control panel to make the colors in your prints lighter or darker.
...
Adjusting Color
  1. From the home screen, select Menu and press the OK button. ...
  2. Press the arrow buttons to select Color Adjustment and press the OK button.

How can I improve print quality? ›

The Best Ways to Improve Your Print Quality for Better Printing...
  1. Choose the Right Paper. The first big mistake in print quality is using low quality paper. ...
  2. Choose Better Colors. ...
  3. Opt for Higher Resolutions. ...
  4. Choose a High-Quality Commercial Printing Partner.
4 Aug 2021

What is the best color profile for printing? ›

When designing for a printed format, the best color profile to use is CMYK, which uses the base colors of Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Key (or Black).

What is the best temperature for sublimation? ›

Each manufacturer of sublimation blanks has a recommended temperature for their blanks that hovers around the 400° range.

Do you let sublimation cool before peeling? ›

For textured, cool for 10 minutes before peeling. transfer paper on top. 60 seconds 400°F Medium Remove plastic coating.

What temperature should a sublimation shirt Be? ›

For 100% polyester garments, this is usually around 385°-400°F and 45-60 seconds at medium pressure. When the machine reaches temperature, pre-press your T-shirt to smooth out any wrinkles and eliminate any moisture.

How do I make my Epson printer color brighter? ›

You can use the product's control panel to make the colors in your prints lighter or darker.
...
Adjusting Color
  1. From the home screen, select Menu and press the OK button. ...
  2. Press the arrow buttons to select Color Adjustment and press the OK button.

Why are my sublimation prints coming out dull? ›

Why is my sublimation print coming out dull? Sublimation ink will look duller before it is pressed. You cannot see the true colors of your sublimation design until you press it onto a surface that will accept and hold onto the ink, such as 100% polyester fabric.

Why is my sublimation print faded? ›

Sublimation paper has a coated side which is the side that you print to. If you print on the wrong side of the paper your image will appear faded. Most papers have a watermark to designate which side to print on but for those that don't you want to print on the bright white side of the paper.

Why does my red look orange sublimation? ›

Reds print, as orange, but they are Red. This problem could be caused by "out of gamut" viewing, usually caused by oversaturation of the color. Try printing in "Relative Colorimetric" as the easy fix. If that doesn't work, try lessening the saturation levels.

How do I make my Epson printer print more vibrant? ›

Epson Inkjet Printers | Improving Print Quality - YouTube

How can I improve print quality? ›

The Best Ways to Improve Your Print Quality for Better Printing...
  1. Choose the Right Paper. The first big mistake in print quality is using low quality paper. ...
  2. Choose Better Colors. ...
  3. Opt for Higher Resolutions. ...
  4. Choose a High-Quality Commercial Printing Partner.
4 Aug 2021

What pressure do you use for sublimation? ›

If you are pressing fabrics, the typical recommended pressure is 400 F. This temperature changes slightly for rigid-surface items. The recommended temperature for those is 385 F.

Can you over heat sublimation? ›

Do not overheat the substrate! Applying a sublimated transfer to a hot surface will start the gassing process prematurely, which may lead to ghosting.

How do you stop yellowing when sublimating? ›

Ironing on just on spot overheating and cause yellowing. Even in a circular motion, you can burn the transfer if you do it too long. It is recommended to iron for the right time which is mentioned on the transfer. If you are transferring a logo make sure you don't spend much time ironing the transfer.

What temp do I press sublimation? ›

40-75 seconds 400°F Medium Time varies check with manufacturer. Remove plastic coating. Remove transfer paper immediately after pressing.

How do you keep sublimation from fading when washed? ›

How to Prevent Sublimation Prints From Washing Out?
  1. Make sure to machine wash cold and the inside out to keep the print intact.
  2. Wash dark colors separately and then tumble dry low.
  3. Step away from ironing the design.
  4. Make sure not to dry clean or use bleach while washing.
22 Apr 2021

Why does my sublimation fade after washing? ›

The sublimation inks you are using are often not made from the highest quality material. This means that after being washed. The print is likely to fade because it is no longer protected by a durable coating. We recommend you always go with brands, at least you have insurance that your work will be perfect!

Why does my green sublimation look blue? ›

It is perfectly normal for a print from a sublimation printer to look different to the image on your computer screen. This is because sublimation inks change colour during the sublimation heat pressing process. As sublimation ink reacts when it is heated the ink will physically change colour.

Why is my black sublimation turning green? ›

This means that you are actually using inkjet ink instead of sublimation ink. Sublimation ink is essential to sublimate onto mugs. If the sublimation black looks green, the issue must be that you're under-pressing the mug. Make sure you apply just the right amount of pressure to sublimate a mug.

Can you sublimate on pink polyester? ›

Can you sublimate on colored shirts? The short answer, yes. You absolutely can, but your results will vary greatly. Sublimation is a dye process and doesn't print white.

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