Sublimation printing is ideal for printing on polyester and poly blends. This comprehensive guide explains why this printing method is in demand for printing polyester and any poly blends.

This printing process has become an increasingly popular way of printing, but what's the fuss all about?

We know that this method is becoming more and more popular. But it's not that easy to fully understand how it works and when it's best to choose it over other printing methods. 

This is the ultimate guide to how sublimation printers work without having to consult Google. We tell you about this printing method (we promise our copy won't get too techy), explain exactly what these printers do, when it's best to choose this printing process and even display its (very few!) downsides.

What is sublimation printing?

Sublimation printing is essentially a chemical process. This popular print method might sound a bit scientific, but thanks to digitalisation, it's way more accessible and easy to use than you'd think.

The sublimation print process involves having to press or transfer a design from specialised sublimation transfers onto fabric using heat.

Sublimation print is an excellent method of printing an image, pattern or design onto fabric. This heat printing method results in a clear, crisp image that won't easily fade and that prints colours beautifully.

How does sublimation printing work?

The word ‘sublimate’ literally means ‘to change the form of something’. In the case of the sublimation print process, this involves changing a solid dye to a gas when you print.

In this kind of printing, we use heat transfer printing, (the heat is around 180 – 200°C) and follow this with pressure, which turns the dye into a gas. This gas absorbs into the fabric, leaving behind high-definition, long-lasting printing patterns with incredible detail. 

We use water-based dye sublimation ink for this kind of printing; these are more environmentally friendly than other inks used for press printing on fabric. We print these specialised inks onto the sublimation paper. This way, we press a mirror image on the paper.

The printer lines up the transfer exactly with the fabric. Then it applies heat, which means that the solid ink transfers into a gas.

Once heat has been applied, the gas then absorbs into the textile. It bonds with the fibres of the fabric and embeds itself into the material. The result is a long-lasting print.

This press printing process involves 100% of the ink dye absorbing into the sublimation paper. We guarantee that no dye gets left behind.

We call this technique dye-sublimation; it’s a straightforward and cost-effective heat printing method and an excellent choice for printed fabric using this printing method to press the design onto the textile.

Which fabric is best for this type of printing?

Creating textiles, like any other trade, requires understanding a bit of science. As we already mentioned, this kind of printing involves releasing heat. The minimum temperature is 180°C and even though the exposure time to that amount of heat is less than a minute, certain materials can shrink in that heat.

For this reason, we mainly use these types of printers for polyester and polyester blend materials, as they are unlikely to shrink in the heat. We also make sure they have a white or light-coloured area for printing on. 

Printers using this heat printing method work well with the following textiles:

  • polyester - high quality
  • poly-blends - at least 40% polyester
  • nylon
  • lycra
  • spandex

Check out our fabulous selection to find the perfect textile for your products.

This covers a lot of needs, as you can create your own sweaters and hoodies, dresses, a T-shirt, shirt, or even socks, as long as you use a poly-blend material for your product that can take a little heat.

Just avoid natural material such as cotton and silk. Unfortunately, natural material doesn’t absorb the ink dye as well as polyester and synthetic blends. This results in the design staying on the fabric’s surface, and it may peel, fade or crack as time goes by. For natural material, it’s best to choose digital printing.

Why we use polyester fabric for sublimation printers

At maake we use sublimation printers for all polyester materials as well as on several man-made materials because this printing method is economical and saves on quality. 

Synthetic materials we print using the sublimation process include synthetic polyester blends – and you can also add recycled polyester (rPET)

Check out recycled polyester here, and read about this innovative fabric, too!

Choosing fabric for sublimation printing on products

When you choose a textile for this particular printing method, or any printing method for that matter, consider the effect you’re after when you print. Polyester textiles are particularly good to print patterns that require bold colours. Also, these colors don’t fade after every wash.

Take this kind of printing into account and choose your fabric wisely when you’re creating products. Sample and test the design you plan printing on several textile bases to ensure the best result.

Make sure to compare the same print on each textile for colour intensity, impact, depth, and even scale.

A great tool to use is our sample book,  which we have created especially for designers like yourself. It features all of the base textiles we offer to print on. You can order a sample of your design on the textile of your choice to see exactly what the fabric products will look like when they are printed on.

Colour choices for designs

Your choice of colors is always a personal one, especially when you’re designing your own patterns. So it’s important to set up your design files with the correct colour settings to make sure that you get the results you want when printing. When you upload a file for maake to print, it will give you all the information you need regarding colour settings etc.

Another very helpful tool is our Colour Atlas, a metre of material printed with over 2,400 colors and their colour codes. We created this Colour Atlas so that you can view exactly how a custom chosen shade will print. It also gives you an idea of the selection of colors we have available for you for printing on material.

The pros and cons of sublimation printing on fabric

As you'll quickly see, there are plenty of advantages to the sublimation print process, while the disadvantages are very few.

Pros of sublimation print

Sublimation print is a very sustainable method of printing as no water is used.

  • Once you've printed a design on the material, you'll see that the inks don’t fade or peel. This method produces a near-permanent print.
  • Material printed with this printing method stays soft and breathable after printing.
  • With this digital method of printing, patterns are always detailed, clear and bold.
  • Prints made using this kind of printer are durable and long-lasting.
  • A high-end printer used for this printing method produces photographic quality prints.
  • We leave no ink dye behind on the transfer paper after printing. We use 100% of the dye in the printing process so that no transfer remains on the paper.
  • You can print only as much material as you need, or a large run, depending on exactly what you need. This is why many people prefer this method for small runs, as you can print on demand.
  • The printer used for this method creates intricate detail every time you are printing.
  • Sublimation is a very long-lasting printing method – prints outshine those produced using alternative methods.
  • A huge advantage of this sort of printing is that you can print from one seam to the other. We call this sort of printing 'all-over printing’.
  • One can also personalise and create a custom garment like a shirt or other products, as this printing process is perfect for fabrics and designs for products where you can apply several different pattern variations.
  • On these printers you can even change the size and quality of any image you want.

    The cons of this type of print process

     If you're printing on products like shirts, dresses or skirts, don't use the sublimation print process if you're printing on natural fabrics like cotton and silk. Sadly, when you use heat on this type of textile, the transfer of designs will not be permanent. It’s best to use digital printing for those materials, perhaps inkjet printers with ink cartridges or screen printing.

    • Designs using block colors aren’t ideal for this printing method.
    • Single logos are also not a good choice for a sublimation printer. As this printing method ‘prints all over’, it will work out more expensive for printing logos for a garment or other products. 
    • Sometimes the transfer moves during printing. We call this ‘ghosting’; by ‘ghost’ we mean that it gives the design a second image next to the original, or it may turn out blurred.
    • Sublimation printing takes longer than other printing methods, as it requires an extra step, which is printing on special transfer paper.
    • Sublimation print has to be done on dedicated sublimation printers that can handle the special dye inks required and the transfer process.
    • The printing method is best for either white or light coloured fabrics. It is not suitable for dark shades; we suggest you use digital printers for those colors.
    • When you use this kind of printer for printing, it cannot print or press the colour white.
    • Colors of designs printed with this method tend to fade if they are exposed to constant sunlight. In most other cases, the printed designs are very long-lasting.

      The difference between digital and sublimation printing

      Consider these important facts before you decide which printing method to use on your textile. And if you’re unsure, check out our comprehensive blog on the subject, How to print on fabrics.

      Remember: you need to choose the right printing method depending on the products that you’re making for your business. Both processes are ways to print a design on textiles, but they do have some differences. 

      The main difference between these two printing methods is that you can print on top of any textile you like using digital printing, whereas you have to be careful when you use sublimation printing, as this method is only best with polyester, polyester blends and some synthetic material.

      Another point: digital printing does not require a heat press machine to transfer the design onto the material, as sublimation printing does.

      For more information on the different types of printing, see our informative guide, The Most Popular Methods for Printing on Textiles.

      Enjoy the sublimation process

      Now that you know what sublimation printing work involves and the fact that it requires heat presses, as well as this printing method’s pros and cons, you are probably considering giving it a go. The good news is, there's no need to invest in any machinery, as we provide this seamless service to you, heat presses included, when you print on fabrics or products.

      We offer this printing method for all of our products made from polyester prints! We promise: you won't have to learn how to use transfer paper! We take all the heat for you!

      Let us print on fabric for you

      If you have a small press at home or even an iron to press with - you can buy sublimation paper as a product once you upload your design.

      This kind of heat press printing is phenomenal for producing precise fine lines and sleek details on textile products, and it's one of the most impeccable print methods. As you can rely on us to provide the print service to you, there are no investment costs or training needed.

      You share your creativity and taste, and we'll get you the fabric to make the products of your dreams. It's advisable to pick a versatile poly-blend. We’ll print your design of choice onto your textile depending on the garment or other products you are planning to create.

      Sustainability and the sublimation process

      Sublimation printing is an extremely environmentally friendly method of printing, which is one of the reasons that it’s so popular. We all want to lessen the harm we inflict on our planet, and by decreasing the amount of waste we produce and using less energy, we can do that. And that’s where printing fabric sublimation for a garment like a dress and shirt comes in. 

      When you use sublimation printing for printing on fabric, you’ll also reduce the amount of water your printers usually use and you’ll decrease the amount of energy and ink dye used in the print method.

      Take a look at our up-to-date information on Sustainable Printing in the UK in 2023 right here.

      maake uses sustainable innovation for printing

      Traditional fabric printing uses a large amount of water, energy, and waste. To produce the cheapest product, many mills ignore the massive impact they are having on our environment. However, at maake we work daily to counteract the status quo and minimise our impact when we print on fabric.


      All our print methods including the sublimation process use 95% less energy than traditional printing. In addition, maake uses only 100% renewable energy sources when we print. We make sure our textile printing is only powered by wind and waves. We are also proud to say our production is eco-conscious and we use virtually no water in the printing method.

      Learn more about the positive impacts that we make when we print on fabric and our commitment to sustainable innovation and social responsibility here.

      It’s time to print a design

      Shop the perfect products or print services at maake!

      Choose from 15,300 patterns in our Design Library          Create your own design for printing on fabric

      Choose the perfect base textile 




      February 15, 2022 — Alexander Wills