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Difference between Sublimation and Heat Transfer Printing

Heat Transfer Printing

Sublimation and heat transfers are common terms to people who work in printing fields like custom T-shirts and hoodies printing, mug printing, and other customized printing items. But are these two printing techniques similar or different?

Both sublimation printing and heat printing applications involve a two-step process which is essentially similar in both styles. The first is printing out the custom design onto the designated paper. Then, the design is heat pressed onto the substance of choice.

However, there is a notable difference between the two applications. In sublimation, there is only the ink transfer while in heat transfer there is a transfer layer that is usually transferred over as well. The difference is visible in most transfer paper types.

Depending on the types of apparel and other substrates one is planning to decorate, one application may be more appropriate to the decorating material than the other.

Here are some of the differences, pros, and cons associated with sublimation and heat transfer printing applications.


Sublimation ink and sublimation papers are used to do the printing. In this technique, bonding is done on the substrate on a molecular level. It is appropriate for printing on micro-fiber and polyester materials.


  • The print out has high durability
  • It is cost-effective
  • Transfer papers can be utilized on both textiles and hard surfaces
  • Produces impressive colors on both hard and soft substrates.
  • The transfer is self-weeding
  • There is no hand feel on the design


  • Sublimation is only applicable to polyester fabrics and poly-coated substrates.
  • Sublimation is restricted to the color of the substrate. In this case, white is always used to ensure the highest level of the vibrancy of the printing.
  • The inks clog out very fast and therefore the printer has to be run every day to maintain the sublimation system.

Heat printing

In this process, pigment ink and transfer papers are used to do the printing.


  • Unlike sublimation, it can print on both cotton and polyester substrates
  • There are no restrictions on the color of the apparels
  • It is cost-effective
  • You can achieve self-weeding using laser heating transfer paper.
  • They use toner and not ink therefore they don’t clog out.
  • It allows the use of two different routes in printing, that is, laser and inkjet printing


  • It does not achieve self-weeding with inkjet papers
  • Inkjet papers are restricted to textiles only
  • It may lead to cracking when dealing with bigger designs
  • Bigger designs will have heavy hand feel which makes the wearer feel the artwork on the garment.
  • When using laser papers, you will be required to use different papers when transferring onto the textiles and when transferring onto hard surfaces.
  • Some of the heat transfer papers that are used on light substrates have a transfer layer that is transferred with the design leaving a translucent background.

Final thought

Both printing methods are affordable and beneficial and the printing involves two simple steps. Therefore, it is up to you to choose the most suitable technique. It is advisable to use a heat transfer printer if you are entirely dealing with garments. However, if you want to do ceramics, tiles or plastic printings, you can use a sublimation printer.

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