What is Dye Sublimation, Screen Printing and Heat Transfer?

You can not compare Dye sublimation, Screen Printing, and Heat Transfer with each other because they all have some unique uses and features. If you are printing on many t-shirts, you need to use screen printing, but it’s not practical or even economical if you want to do a small quantity of them; for that, you have to go with Dye Sublimation.

What is Dye Sublimation, Screen Printing and Heat Transfer

In today’s article, we will discuss these three methods of printing in detail and compare them, so you can choose which one is the best and better for you?

Dye Sublimation

In most straightforward words, Sublimation is the process of turning a solid into a gas without going through a liquid state. You can use sublimation to decorate your shirts and attire with fantastic artwork. You can print a full-color image without any cracking and with no minimums.

In Dye-Sublimation, ink is absorbed by the fabric rather than printed on the top, which improves the durability and most essential colours & detailing of the print/artwork. Dye Sublimation gives you much better, elegant, and durable output. The print also won’t fade away if done correctly and with the right sublimation equipment, especially Ink. 

For best results, your material should be Polyester, or in other words, the more polyester, the better the print is going to be. In addition, sublimation should be on the light color garments. It will enhance the colors and details of the art.

The best advantage of dye-sublimation printing is that you can get multiple colors at once on your shirt or any object you want to print on, as long as your ink and printing accessories are made up of good quality.

Screen Printing

Screen printing and silk screening both are the same, and it’s just two different names for the same thing. Screen Printing is the process where a mesh is used to transfer ink onto the substrate.

Many manufacturers worldwide because it’s easier in bulk printing, plus it’s a traditional high precision printing process. This method can save much time for the merchants and manufacturers, but the only con/disadvantage is that you need a big setup to print multiple colors.

There are four simple steps to do Screen Printing.

  1. Design and Screen Preparation
  2. Exposing the Emulsion
  3. Creation of the Stencil
  4. Printing

Design and Screen Printing:

The 1st step is to prepare the design you want to print. You can either draw it or print it from a computer onto a transparent acetate film. The image must be in black while printing, and it will be used to create the screen.

Now preparing the screen, the screen is made up of mesh stretched over a frame(could be any). The mesh should be made up of Silk, but you can still use Nylon or Polyester.

Exposing the Emulsion:

Photo Emulsion is a liquid that undergoes a reaction when exposed to UV light; it makes it harden. The emulsion is then applied to both sides of the mesh using a scoop coater or squeeze. 

The emulsion coating should be uniform on both sides and thinly applied. Make sure that there is no space or a gap left uncoated. You must do this step away from the UV lights, and the recommendation is to do it in the darkroom.

Creation of the Stencil:

Once the emulsion is dried, place your print upside down on the screen and put the clear glass on it to ensure it’s flat against the screen and can’t move while working on it. Now you can expose the screen to the sun or light lamps.

When the screen gets exposed to the light, a reaction occurs by the help of which the exposed area becomes hardened and when you wash the screen with water. The exposed area will not pass/wash away, while the unexposed area will still be soft, and it will wash away.

You have now your design ready on the screen for the next step.


The fabric on which the design is to be printed will be laid down flat on any table. The screen then is placed on the area where you want the print, and a thick layer of the desired colour of ink is applied to the top of the screen. A squeegee is used to drag the ink on the whole area of the screen, covering the complete stencil.

If you want to produce a multi-colored image, then you need multiple screens because one screen can only be used for one color at a time.

Now your Screen Printing process is completed. 

Heat Transfer

Heat Transfer printing is the process & method by which you can transfer your favorite designs from paper onto your substrates(i.e. shirt).

It mainly has these two steps, and if you apply them correctly you will be having a masterpiece with your classy design printed on it.

Step No.1:

In the first step, you need a design you want to print on your substrate, and then you need to print your design on the transfer paper with the help of a printer.

Step No.2:

In step two, you must transfer that design from transfer paper to adhesive paper using a heat press.

Now peel away the adhesive sheet from the transfer paper and place that sheet of design to the garment where you want it to be printed; now press the heat press machine, and once it’s done, slowly peel away the sheet and you have left your shirt with the design printed on it.

Heat Transfer VS Sublimation – Durability and Feel

You will feel the clear difference between these two printing methods. By sublimation, the ink gets infused within the fabric, while on the other hand, heat transfer leaves a thin layer of ink on the top of the material.

A heat transfer printed design can last about 30-40 washes depending on how it was printed, the quality of the ink, and how it was washed. While on the other side, sublimation ink is absorbed by the fabric, and it’s now the permanent part of the fabric; it lasts at least 100+ washes which are way better than heat transfer.

Most of the time sublimated designs last as long as the original fabric itself. With sublimated printing, you will not see any cracking or vanishing of any color and print.

With heat transfer printing, you are not limited to any specific kind of material, you can do heat transfer printing on mugs, ceramic, plates, clothes, wood, or anything you can name. While on the other hand, with sublimation, you are limited to polyester only. Even a 60% – 40% ratio of polyester in the shirt can not give you the vibrancy you can get on a 100% polyester shirt.


Sublimation Printing vs Heat Press vs Screen Printing all have their own individual identity and features. Most importantly, they are all used for something specific, which other cant do. So you need to identify your best and find & choose the one which fits the best for you.