Sublimation vs. Screen Printing: Understanding the Differences

In the world of garment customization, there are lots of techniques to choose from. Two of the most popular, however, are sublimation and screen printing. Both options yield visually appealing results and offer numerous other benefits depending on your application. If you are trying to decide between sublimation and screen printing, keep reading to learn more about the processes and gain an understanding of their differences.                        

Sublimation and Screen Printing: How They Work

silk screen printing shirt

Source: KOKTARO/

Screen printing is one of the most common methods of customizing garments, and it has been around for decades. In this technique, a squeegee is used to force ink through a screen and onto a t-shirt. This can be done by hand or with a screen printing machine. Sublimation prints, on the other hand, are a printing technique in which a design is created using a special printer, and then applied to the garment using a heat press. It is a much newer technique than screen printing, but it has quickly become one of the most popular methods of customizing everything from blank t-shirts to coffee mugs. 

Benefits of Screen Printing

The primary benefits of screen printing relate to cost. It is the most cost-effective method of mass-producing shirts, and it is the most affordable method to get started in. Creating an at-home screen printing setup costs just a couple hundred dollars, so it is easy to get started on virtually any budget. 

Additionally, screen printing works on nearly any type of fabric. While most folks have preferences and opinions on the best shirts for screen printing, the process works on nearly any material. 

Learn How to Choose the Best Shirt Material for Screen Printing

You can also choose from a wide range of screen printing inks that allow you to create special effects. Three-dimensional and foil designs can both be screen printed on wholesale t-shirts if you have the right types of ink. 

Screen Printing Drawbacks

If you are only making a single shirt or doing a small run, screen printing may not be efficient in terms of time or money. Making screens can be a lengthy process, and the cost of supplies adds up quickly. 

With this method, you are also limited to using a few colors and creating relatively simple designs. Each color needs to be added separately, too, which increases production time. 

Benefits of Sublimation Printing

printing for shirt

Source: Photology1971/

Getting started in sublimation printing is pricey due to the special equipment required. But the process can be cost-effective, depending on what type of shirts you are making. If you are doing small runs and frequently changing designs, sublimation may be the most efficient method. 

Sublimation reigns supreme when it comes to creating detailed multi-color designs, too. With this technology, you can use any color and any number of colors without increasing the time or money needed to create the design. Also, sublimation printing can be used to add photo-realistic images to garments. 

Another perk of sublimation is that it can be used to customize hard surfaces that have been treated with polymer. This means you can use the process to decorate coffee mugs, tumblers, signs, and more, as long as you have the right type of heat press. 

Sublimation Drawbacks

While they are becoming more accessible, sublimation printers are not cheap. Neither are heat presses. Getting started requires a hefty upfront investment, so this method is not for everyone. 

Another important thing to note is that, when it comes to garments, sublimation printing only works on white or very light-colored polyester. It does not work on dark colors or fabrics containing less than two-thirds polyester. 

Sublimation vs. Screen Printing: Which Is Better? 

pointing at white t shirt

Source: Dean Drobot/

When you put these two methods of garment customization head-to-head, it is impossible to choose a clear winner. Determining the best one largely comes down to assessing your needs and how you plan to use the equipment. If you have some extra money to spend and plan on creating shirts with photo-realistic designs or only plan on doing small runs, sublimation is a solid option. If, however, you are leaning more toward large runs or are trying to start doing garment customization on a tight budget, screen printing may be a better bet. 

Get Wholesale T-Shirts in Bulk for Your Screen Printing or Sublimation Project

Sublimation and screen printing both offer a wide range of benefits and drawbacks. It is up to you to decide which method is right for you. Keep in mind, too, that many people – especially business owners – use both techniques. In doing so, they can enjoy the benefits of each without having to worry about the drawbacks. 

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